Poverty Number 17, May 2009
International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
Poverty Practice, Bureau for Development Policy, UNDP
2 International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
A mong the many social groups that have been historically excluded, indigenous
peoples comprise one that offers great challenges to development. Although
their assimilation has been a goal of the national societies that engulfed them,
it is disputable whether indigenous peoples desire the type of social inclusion that
development, in its many forms, can produce. At the same time, development seems
irreversible, and resistance to it might have consequences far more adverse than those
brought by acceptance. The best way to overcome the challenges seems to be to
indigenise development: to put it to work on behalf of indigenous peoples instead
of putting them to work for a model of development that is not only alien to them
but that frequently does violence to their culture. With this in mind:
Alcida Rita Ramos, Rafael Guerreiro Osorio and JosÃ© Pimenta introduce the theme and the
challenges to indigenising development, considering points raised by the other contributors.
Gersem Baniwa writes about the dilemmas that development poses to indigenous
peoples in Brazil, who simultaneously want to enjoy its benefits, particularly the material
and technological resources of the modern world, and to also keep their traditions.
Myrna Cunningham and Dennis Mairena explain that the very concept of development is
inimical to some core values of many indigenous cultures of Nicaragua, such as
collective labour and property, egalitarian distribution, and holistic world views.
Jaime Urrutia Cerutti presents his thoughts on why in Peru, unlike Bolivia and Ecuador,
there is no massive and strong social movement of indigenous peoples. The indigenous
population comprises the majority in these three Andean countries, and is already
integrated into their modern national societies.
Stuart Kirsch departs from the concept of human development to show how a mining
project in Suriname might enhance the economic freedom of some indigenous groups
at the expense of some other important freedoms associated with being indigenous.
JosÃ© Pimenta tells the success story of an Ashaninka group in Brazil who became an
archetype of the ecological indian, running sustainable development projects, and
managing and protecting the environment. This success was context-specific, however,
and was not without cost to their way of life.
Charles R. Hale recalls the dramatic impacts of the civil war on the indigenous peoples
of Guatemala. Caught between the state and the guerrillas, they have been through
genocide, and modest advancements achieved earlier were reversed. A re-emerging
Maya social movement now faces the resistance of the countryâ€™s elite.
Bruce Grant takes us back to the Soviet Union and pinpoints some of the differences
of socialist development, showing how it affected indigenous peoples in Siberia who
were paradoxically seen as both a model of primitive communism and of backwardness.
It was a dear goal of Soviet planners to make them leap forward as an example of the
benefits of socialism.
David G. Anderson considers how the dismantling of the Soviet Union affected indigenous
peoples in Siberia. Current Russian models of indigenous development are worth
considering because they are not purely capitalist: private corporations that take over
projects assume many of the roles of the former socialist state in welfare provision, and
the overall repercussions are both favourable and otherwise.
Bernard Saladin dâ€™Anglure and FranÃ§oise Morin discuss the impact of the colonisation and
development of the Arctic on the Inuit. Charged by the Soviet Union for neglecting the
human development of the Inuit, Canada devised a policy that succeeded in raising
their material standards of living while culturally impoverishing them.
Carolina SÃ¡nchez, JosÃ© del Val, and Carlos Zolla emphasise the importance of monitoring
the welfare and development of indigenous peoples by devising culturally adequate
information systems. They summarise the state-of-the-art proposals, outline the main
demands of indigenous leaders and experts as regards such systems, and present the
successful experience of their programme in Guerrero, Mexico.
We hope that the articles in this issue of Poverty in Focus help raise awareness in
the development community about problems that do not have immediate and easy
solutions, but that are crucial to shaping the present and future of indigenous peoples.
Poverty in Focus is a regular publication of the
International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
(IPC-IG). Its purpose is to present the results
of research on poverty and inequality in the
developing world. Support is provided by
the Swedish International Development
Cooperation Agency (Sida).
Alcida Rita Ramos, Rafael Guerreiro OsÃ³rio
and JosÃ© Pimenta
International Advisory Board
Front page: SuruÃ men in the indigenous
land Sete de Setembro, Brazilian Amazonia
(Cacoal, RO). Capacity building course on the
use of new technologies by the Equipe
de ConservaÃ§Ã£o da AmazÃ´nia, ACT Brasil,
www.actbrasil.org.br. Photo by Fernando Bizerra.
Â©ACT Brasil. IPC-IG and the Editors thank ACT
Brasil and the photographer for granting
permission of use.
Editorsâ€™ note: IPC-IG and the editors gratefully
acknowledge the generous contributions,
without any monetary or material remuneration,
by all the authors of this issue.
IPC-IG is a joint project between the United
Nations Development Programme and Brazil to
promote South-South Cooperation on applied
poverty research. It specialises in analysing
poverty and inequality and offering researchbased policy recommendations on how to reduce
them. IPC-IG is directly linked to the Poverty
Group of the Bureau for Development Policy,
UNDP and the Government of Brazil.
IPC-IG Director (a.i.)
International Policy Centre for Inclusive
Growth (IPC-IG), Poverty Practice,
Bureau for Development Policy, UNDP
Esplanada dos MinistÃ©rios, Bloco O, 7Âº andar
70052-900 Brasilia, DF Brazil
The views expressed in IPC-IG publications
are the authorsâ€™ and not necessarily those of
the United Nations Development Programme
or the Government of Brazil.
Oscar Altimir, CEPAL, Santiago de Chile
Giovanni A. Cornia, UniversitÃ di Firenze
Nora Lustig, Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico
Gita Sen, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore
Anna Tibaijuka, UN Habitat, Nairobi
Peter Townsend, London School of Economics
Philippe van Parijs, UniversitÃ© de Louvain
Poverty in Focus May 2009 3
by Alcida Rita Ramos, University of Brasilia;
Rafael Guerreiro OsÃ³rio, International
Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth; and
JosÃ© Pimenta, University of Brasilia, Brazil
and self-determination are
core values in the Western
world, but they are seldom
contemplated in relation
to indigenous peoples.
To indigenise development
is to take into account
the indigenous version
of these values.
Above all, indigenising
a drastic change in
attitude on the part of
It is crucial that they recognise
their ignorance about things
indigenous, and admit from
the start that they do not
know what is best for
It is imperative that
indigenous people participate
and, most importantly, that
their opinions are heard
and heeded, including
their right to say no.
* United Nations website:
The United Nations Permanent
Forum on Indigenous Peoples estimates
that throughout the world there are
370 million indigenous people in
about 70 countries who â€œhave retained
social, cultural, economic and political
characteristics that are distinct from those
of the dominant societies in which they liveâ€.*
Retaining such characteristics, however,
has been very difficult because most
nation-states have sought to assimilate
indigenous people. Blunt statements to
that effect are no longer acceptable in
many political arenas, as shown by the
fact that 144 countries voted for approval
of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Nevertheless, in actual practice,
dominant societies continue to follow
assimilationist policies in different ways,
mostly in the name of development for
all. But it is clear that, more often than
not, development has had dreadful
consequences for indigenous peoples,
pushing entire societies into new
conditions of poverty and even extinction.
The concept of development has a
number of different connotations.
Although one might regard the whole
history of mankind within the framework
of development, contemporary
conceptions of development are actually
a Western product that was perfected,
most particularly, during the Cold War.
Following World War Two, development
was conceived in strictly economic terms.
Attendant on the quest for GDP growth
was the general belief that economic
development would yield development in
other spheres of life. Development
in any society was thought to follow
an evolutionary process: from basic
commodity suppliers, through capital
accumulation to industrialisation,
in turn leading to urbanisation and
â€œmodernisationâ€. According to liberal
theorists, the final product of
development would be the establishment
of meritocratic democracies with market
economies, social protection and mild
socioeconomic inequality. Marxist
theorists went further and posited
egalitarian stateless societies
with collective ownership of
the means of production.
Involuntarily, indigenous peoples
have played a contradictory role in this
process. While they revealed alternative
ways of life and thus inspired notable
Western thinkers whose social
philosophies helped shape the modern
world, they were also regarded as crude,
primitive and uncivilised. Two of our
contributors remind us of this.
David Anderson recalls how native
societies inspired the accounts of the
highly mobile and egalitarian societies
imagined by both Marxist and liberal
theorists as the ultimate outcome of
development. Bruce Grant shows how
Soviet planners regarded Siberian
native people as both the prototype of
primitive communism and exemplars
of the backwardness that socialist
development should and would eradicate.
The development of indigenous peoples,
ethnocentrically understood as their
assimilation into the civilised world,
became an international concern in
the Cold War years. As Bernard Saladin
dâ€™Anglure and FranÃ§oise Morin tell us, the
Soviet Union accused Canada of ignoring
the human development of the Inuit.
In response, the Canadian government
devised a strategy for Inuit development
which, apart from its ideological slant,
resembled that of socialist planners for
their own indigenous peoples. According
4 International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
What is this about development?
In my homeland I used to calmly wake up in the morning. I didnâ€™t have to worry about
clothing because my house was isolated, surrounded by my gardens and the forest.
I would quietly admire the immense nature of the Santiago River while my wife lit the
fire. I would bathe in the river and at daybreak go off in the canoe to bring some cunchis
or catch some mojarras. Without worrying about time, I would return home. My wife
would joyfully welcome me, cook the fish, and give me my cuÃ±ashca as I warmed myself
by the fire. We would chat, my wife, my children and I till we had no more to say.
Then she would go to the garden and my son and I to the forest. While walking in the
bush I would teach my son about nature, about our history, everything according to my
taste and the teachings of our ancestors. We would hunt and cheerfully go back home
with the game. My wife would happily welcome us, having just bathed and combed her
hair, with her new tarache. We would eat until we were full. I would rest if I wished,
otherwise, I would visit my neighbours and make crafts; soon my relatives would arrive
and we would drink masato, tell tales and, if everything was all right, we would end up
dancing all night.
Now with development things have changed. There are morning hours for labor.
We work the rice fields till late and return home with nothing. My wife, grumpy,
con las justas, gives me a dish of yucca with salt. We hardly talk; my son goes to school
where they teach him things about Lima. After harvest, a thousand squabbles to earn a
pittance. Everything goes to the truck driver, to the shopkeepers. All I take home are
some little cans of tuna fish, a few packages of noodles, but what is worse is that this
type of agriculture eats up communal land and soon there will be none left.
I can see all my fellow countrymen rummaging all the garbage dumps in Lima.
When I was in BogotÃ¡ I wanted to know how the millionaires lived and they told me that
the millionaires have their isolated houses amidst beautiful landscapes; they calmly get
up in the morning to admire the landscape, bathe and return with breakfast ready
waiting for them, and as there is no hurry, they chat leisurely with their wives and
children. The children go to a select school where they learn according to their fathersâ€™
tastes. The man strolls through his property and shoots at some birds or goes fishing,
and on his return he finds the table set and the lady well groomed for lunch. He sleeps
after the meal or does some painting or any other hobby such as carpentry. Then he goes
out for a drink with friends and, if they want, they can dance as much as they feel like.
Then I ask myself: does this all mean that I and all my fellow countrymen will end up in
the garbage dumps so that one or two millionaires can have the life we used to have?
What is this about development?
AndrÃ©s Nuningo SesÃ©n, a Huambisa Indian from Peru
Source: Ramos, A. R. (1998). Indigenism: ethnic politics in Brazil.
Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Press. p.195.
to these authors, the Inuit achieved a
certain Western standard of living,
as did the Siberian groups discussed
by David Anderson and Bruce Grant before
the dismantling of the Soviet Union.
But material improvement brought
about various degrees of assimilation
that resulted in the loss of intangible
goods and cultural impoverishment,
especially for the Inuit.
Whether in the Marxist or liberal
mode, development always entails the
exploitation of natural resources, which
makes indigenous people an â€œobstacleâ€
to progress. They occupy lands often
rich in resources that are coveted
by the dominant societies. To assimilate
indigenous peoples, therefore, or
simply to usurp their lands, has
been considered a necessary step
in fostering development.
National interest, often translated as
that of particular economic groups,
has always taken precedence over
indigenous interests, as Jaime Urrutia
reminds us. For most of the twentieth
century, regardless of ideological
changes, the treatment accorded to
indigenous peoples was very similar
to their treatment during the centuries
of European expansion and colonialism.
Critiques of purely economic
development have led to the conceptâ€™s
further elaboration into enlarged versions,
such as â€œhuman developmentâ€, â€œsustainable
developmentâ€ and â€œdevelopment with
identityâ€. The latter two are most often
applied to indigenous people, albeit in
terms of discourse rather than action, as
Jaime Urrutia and JosÃ© Pimenta point out.
In the case of â€œsustainable developmentâ€
there is the added risk of equating
indigenous peoples with natureâ€”for
instance, as a species of the rain forest.
From the Western point of view,
indigenous development has mostly
revolved around the issue of land
rights: how to exploit indigenous
natural resources without confronting
contemporary ethical sensibilities?
Land-grabbing has had a major impact
on indigenous lives. Consequently,
the struggle for land recognition and
territorial autonomy has been a constant
concern. This issue is discussed by almost
all the contributors. Myrna Cunningham
and Dennis Mairena report some advances
in this respect among the indigenous
peoples of Nicaraguaâ€™s Atlantic coast, as
do Bernard Saladin dâ€™Anglure and FranÃ§oise
Morin in their discussion of the Canadian
Inuit. However, these are exceptions
rather than the rule.
Indigenous land problems range from
limited rights to no rights at all. The
Ashaninka of the AmÃ´nia River in the
Brazilian Amazonia have recently had
their land demarcated, as JosÃ© Pimenta
describes, but under Brazilian law they
have no rights over the subsoil. Stuart
Kirsch adds that the Lokono and the Trio
of Suriname, with untitled lands, are
forced to endorse development projects
on the grounds that this is the only
way to secure some benefit from mining
operations on their territory.
The recognition and demarcation of
indigenous land is crucial. As Gersem
Baniwa states, without land rights it is
impossible for indigenous peoples even
to think of development. Unlike the
standard Western views of development,
Poverty in Focus May 2009 5
for many indigenous peoples, nature is
notâ€”to paraphrase Cunningham and
Mairenaâ€”a grocery store at the service of
men. Land and resources are not reduced
to mere economic assets; they are pillars
of a life in which the economic sphere is
but one among many and quite often
subsumed under others, including belief
systems. Development planners, however,
have systematically ignored the cultural
dimensions that distinguish indigenous
logic from Western logic.
Indigenous people have felt and resisted
the negative impacts of development.
Bewildered and distressed, many
indigenous leaders have questioned
the principles and logic of development,
and have spoken, usually to deaf ears,
against the abuses committed in its
name. There are plenty of testimonial
reports by indigenous persons to that
effect. How better could we sketch the
traps of development for indigenous
peoples than to present the compelling
message by AndrÃ©s Nuningo SesÃ©n, a
Huambisa man from Peru, which is
reproduced in the box?
His message underscores the fact
that development generates poverty
and severe inequality where there
were none before, that it confronts
indigenous peoples with programmes
that are alien to their way of life,
a point much stressed in the
contributions to this issue.
Even among the rare cases in which
native people escaped material
deprivation, one finds alcoholism,
prostitution, obesity and alarming
rates of suicide among young people.
Though development has not been
so beneficial to indigenous peoples,
it has brought about undeniable gains.
As Sen (1999) has stated, never in history
have so many lived so well and
so long as today.
Indigenous peoples are aware of this
and want to share in the benefits of
the modern world. As Gersem Baniwa
notes, it is not a matter of demonising
and rejecting development unreservedly.
Stepping aside is not a feasible option
in this day and age. Either indigenous
peoples master development, or
they are overrun by it. The key issue, then,
is how to indigenise development.
But to convert development into an
indigenous enterprise is not so easy.
As development necessarily brings about
change, it is imperative that indigenous
persons acquire the skills to â€œdominate
the dominating systemâ€, as Gersem Baniwa
puts it. Furthermore, there is the risk that
those equipped to deal with Western
politics and bureaucracy may be viewed
with suspicion by their fellows.
A major obstacle to indigenising
development is racism. Nation-state
elites ignore or deny the capacity of
indigenous peoples to forward their
own view of development and devise
strategies to carry it out. Charles Hale
gives an account of the Maya of
Guatemala. Though perfectly able
to construct their own forms of
development, and having survived
a genocidal war, they find themselves
encumbered by racism.
The idea that indigenous peoples
cannot learn the ways of the West is
still widespread, despite the presence
of outstanding indigenous intellectuals
There are no ready and easy ways
to bring acceptable development to
indigenous peoples. Besides the central
issue of land rights, two other key
problems must be tackled: information
and participation. Development makes
wide use of statistics and socioeconomic
indicators. As Carolina SÃ¡nchez, JosÃ© del
Val and Carlos Zolla assert, access to
information is still the Achilles heel of
indigenous development. The traditional
indicators of development are mute
about spheres of life that are important
for indigenous peoples.
A new set of indicators is needed to
measure and monitor how indigenous
peoples are faring. This involves major
methodological challenges, starting with
how to properly identify indigenous
peoples in primary data collection.
Finally we come to the issue of
participation. Sovereignty, selfgovernment and self-determination are
core values in the Western world, but
they are seldom contemplated in
relation to indigenous peoples.
To indigenise development is to take
into account the indigenous version
of these values. If indigenous peoples
are to participate in development
processes, they must participate
actively in them. Not all of them
may be prepared to do so, just as
not all Westerners are. To fully
understand what is involved in
development processes, particularly
the long-term outcome of some
projects, indigenous peoples should be
trained specifically for this purpose.
Above all, indigenising development
requires a drastic change in attitude
on the part of development planners.
It is crucial that they recognise their
ignorance about things indigenous,
and admit from the start that they
do not know what is best for indigenous
peoples. Without an exercise of humility,
a necessary condition for proper learning,
developers will continue to make
the traditional mistakes regarding
development among indigenous peoples.
Hence it is imperative that indigenous
people participate and, most importantly,
that their opinions are heard and
heeded, including their right to say
no. In short, no one knows better than
indigenous people themselves what sort
of development is most appropriate for
them, and, being appropriate, has the
best chance of success.
Sen, A. (1999). Development as Freedom.
New York, Random House.
and logic of
have spoken, usually
to deaf ears, against
the abuses committed
in its name.
6 International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
Thinking about policies for
indigenous development in Brazil
requires some knowledge of the
historical processes of economic, political
and cultural domination suffered by
indigenous peoples. Any new proposals
for changing the relationship between
the Brazilian state and indigenous
peoples will have to involve the
deconstruction of the many forms
of exploitation that were historically
imposed on those peoples. Brazilian
public policies have always sought to
integrate and assimilate them into the
national society, with a disregard for
indigenous forms of economic and
sociocultural organisation. The first step
towards change is the dismantling of the
current policy framework, marked by
what are termed â€œassistentialistâ€ practices
and by political patronage.
If change is to be made, some key issues
should be tackled. One is the territorial
question. Unless indigenous peoples
enjoy guaranteed land rights, it is not
possible to think of their economic and
sociocultural development. In Brazil
today, more than 600 indigenous lands
are awaiting regularisation. A second issue
is the need for effective recognitionâ€”
political, administrative and juridicalâ€”of
indigenous peoples as autonomous
social units endowed with specific
collective rights, as stipulated in the
Brazilian constitution. The third issue is
the need to devise policies, programmes
and actions that give priority to the
advancement and realisation of local and
ethnic capacities, building on human and
natural resources, as well as on
Current policy formulas, even if
successful in other settings, cannot be
unthinkingly transposed and applied to
indigenous peoples. This has been the
main sin of the so-called project culture
or â€œprojetismoâ€, wherein development
projects are considered as ready-made
panaceas with universal application
(Verdum, 2006). Indigenous peoples
have different needs for which provision
should be made, notably their cultural
specificities and particularly those
regarding their own representations of
time, space and rhythm, their economic
logic, and their means of production,
distribution and consumption. Moreover,
programmes and actions for indigenous
peoples cannot be simple components of
generic policies. They must be guided by
appropriate principles and criteria, and
they should have their own safe, efficient
and sufficient funding sources and their
own administrative structures.
In Brazil there are some innovative
experiences based on conceptual and
methodological advances. These include
three programmes of indigenous or
ethno-development that are worth
mentioning. The Ministry of the
Environment oversees the Projeto
Demonstrativo dos Povos IndÃgenas
and the Carteira IndÃgena. The former
aims to fund local sustainable
development projects, as well as to
promote the institutional strengthening
and leadership building of indigenous
organisations. The latter programme
finances small projects related to food
production and handicrafts. The Brazilian
Department for Indigenous Affairs (FUNAI)
runs the Programa de ProteÃ§Ã£o das Terras
IndÃgenas da AmazÃ´nia Legal, which
promotes enforcement of land rights.
Despite the innovative aspects of these
experiences, some problems have not
been overcome. In light of current
processes of social and economic
development, the impact that such
programmes have on indigenous
communities yield some lessons
to be learned (Baniwa, 2006).
To Dominate the
System and Not to be
Dominated by it
by Gersem Baniwa
Centro IndÃgena de Estudos e Pesquisas
(CINEP) and Ministry of Education,
peoples do want access
to the material and
of the modern world.
It is difficult to imagine
the state implementing
policies, programmes and
actions that follow a pure
The economy for indigenous
peoples is part of a whole
that cannot be split.
It should be understood
in its relationships and
interdependencies with the
natural, social, cultural and
Poverty in Focus May 2009 7
The first is that these programmes
are demanded because they are often
seen as means of fitting into Western
standards, of achieving higher sociopolitical status, of gaining access
to technology and of enjoying
the benefits of development.
The second lesson is that these
programmes become instruments
of power, status and privilege for
new indigenous leaders and their
The third is that the management logic
of such programmes overtly contradicts
the social, political and economic logic of
indigenous peoples. Indigenous leaders
who become involved in managing these
programmes can be persecuted, mobbed
and even subject to death threats, since
their activity is often taken as a disregard
for tradition. Nonetheless, indigenous
peoples are not willing to give up the
programmes, because they are the only
means of bringing the technological and
material benefits of the modern world to
Contemporary indigenous peoples
do want access to the material and
technological resources of the modern
world. They take this as a legitimate and
lawful right, since they are aware that
contact with the surrounding world,
whether the relationship is symmetrical
or asymmetrical, is irreversible. This leads
them to re-think their conditions of
existence and ethnic continuityâ€”not to
renounce or deny their culture but to
update it according to their own wishes
Development projects, once they are
framed in terms of indigenous
sociocultural horizons, even in a limited
way, may help reshape the battlefield of
political and economic forces in a way
that favours the true coexistence of
cultures in a single nation-state. In a
dynamic, plural coexistence of distinct
lifestyles and worldviews, indigenous
peoples ably manoeuvre and have
shown that they do consciously
something that Westerners seem
incapable of doing: instead of excluding,
they put together the diverse knowledge
and technologies found in the
Given the social and historical context in
which indigenous peoples live, scrutiny
of the feasible alternatives available to
them shows how partial is the naÃ¯ve idea
that development projects are necessarily
harmful and unilaterally imposed. They
indeed have many negative consequences,
since they seek to offer instructions
for integration into the modern world,
but they should not be demonised.
As Sahlins (1978) has observed about the
Pacific Basin, indigenous peoples fight
for development projects, willing to be
the protagonists of their own history,
just as they did throughout the process
of European colonisation, to which they
did not succumb. And they do not stand
by passively when faced with the
perversity of the modern capitalist
world, even when their local leaders
are victimised (Baines, 1991).
The main point is not whether to
accept or deny the current model
of development projects imposed by
the state, but to transform it into what
contemporary indigenous peoples want;
not to get rid of development, but to
indigenise it. It is difficult to imagine the
state implementing policies, programmes
and actions that follow a pure
indigenous logic. Money, equipment,
technologies and everything that is
identified with development can hardly
be incorporated without causing change
and even breaks with tradition.
Indigenous peoples thus have to dominate
the dominating system so as not to be
dominated by it. Their resistance is not
merely defensive, but also offensive:
appropriation of the dominating system
is a proactive way of maintaining their
otherness and ethnic autonomy.
The major challenge, therefore, is to
enable indigenous peoples to establish
for themselves the dynamics of their
interaction with the surrounding
world and its limits. This is the political
task that ethno-development projects,
theoretically, should accomplish in order
to minimise the adverse impacts of
Conflicts and contradictions
happen because indigenous peoples
cannot pierce the bureaucratic and
administrative shield that
prevents them from being part of
decision-making processes, and thus
their efforts to dominate the dominant
system are frustrated. Since they still face
many obstacles to exerting their right
to have their voices heard and to have
decision-making power over projects that
affect them, they have to rely on nonindigenous advisors to help them find
a path through the bureaucratic jungle.
The commitment of those advisors is
positive in the sense that it helps to
lessen the likelihood that menacing
projects will be implemented. But if
the relationship with outside advisors
is vertical, and the capacity to deal with
the state and donors is not transferred,
dependency is created, hindering the
advance of indigenous peoplesâ€™
To conclude, in order to put development
at the service of indigenous peoples
instead of at the service of those who
stand to prosper from their exploitation,
some points must be considered. One
concerns the participation of indigenous
peoples in all stages of policymaking:
design, implementation, monitoring
Participation, however, will not suffice
if they do not fully understand in
what they are being involved. Heavy
investment in capacity building among
indigenous peoples is thus essential.
Non-indigenous professionals and
advisors should be gradually replaced by
indigenous professionals, who will take
over projects, programmes and actions.
Services such as education, health and
social assistance should be increasingly
The major challenge,
therefore, is to
peoples to establish
for themselves the
dynamics of their
interaction with the
and its limits.
8 International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
It is a common mistake to define
development in terms of increased
productivity, modernisation, technology
and wealth accumulation. Wealth is seen
as the possession and accumulation
of material goods. Such a concept of
development is exogenous to
For the indigenous peoples of Nicaragua,
developmentâ€”as a tool for survival and
well-beingâ€”is based on the rational and
sustainable exploitation of the natural
resources available in their lands.
They do this following ancestral
principles that express a holistic view of
the interaction between humanity and
the environment; collective labour and
ownership; and the implementation and
transmission of traditional knowledge.
The soil, water, flora and fauna are
among the resources used in their
territories, where humans are just
another interacting element.
In the case of the MÃskitu peoples,
development is linked to what is called
laman laka, which can be interpreted as
the rules of coexistence, offering
harmony within the family regardless of
age or gender. It might be taken as what
some sociologists and anthropologists
term â€œsocial fabricâ€. Laman laka establishes
economic norms on land use, signifying
â€œif I have you have it, if you have it I have
itâ€. This involves labour exchange or pana
pana, which allows interaction between
people and which is marked by the value
of the word, respect for the family, trust,
ethnic loyalty and the commonwealth.
Such a framework produces tacit
agreements on the use of the ecosystem,
whereby everyone knows where
individual crops are to be sown, where
the areas of collective use are located,
where to hunt and fish, and where
relations with the spiritual world
provided by indigenous teachers,
doctors, nurses and social assistants.
Indigenous rights should be championed
by indigenous lawyers. Technical
assistance in rural activities, as well
as in biodiversity management and
preservation, should also be provided
by trained indigenous people. These
professionals will be better prepared to
serve their communities, allying western
knowledge and practices to those of
their own culture in order to satisfy their
demands. Furthermore, they will solve
the problem of intermittent support,
since they will be permanently available
in the communities.
Indigenising development also implies
having ethno-sustainability as a principle,
means and goal of development. A holistic
view of the complex indigenous reality is
thus required. This is needed in order to
go beyond the hegemonic logic that puts
the economic dimension of life as an
overwhelming determinant of all others.
Monetary income, for example, is
something that indigenous people can
use only to acquire food, goods and
technology from the outside world and,
though needed, it can come to weaken
indigenous culturesâ€™ ways of using
natural resources to produce the
goods on which they have traditionally
relied, creating or raising external
dependency. Such impacts should
be carefully considered.
The economy for indigenous peoples is
part of a whole that cannot be split. It
should be understood in its relationships
and interdependencies with the natural,
social, cultural and supernatural
environments. Without such a change
in approach, development policies for
indigenous peoples will be doomed
to a contradiction between their means
Baines, S. G. (1991). Ã‰ a FUNAI que sabe:
A Frente de AtraÃ§Ã£o Waimiri-Atroari.
BelÃ©m, Museu Paraense EmÃlio Goeldi/
Baniwa, G. (2006). Projeto Ã© como branco
trabalha; as lideranÃ§as que se virem para
aprender e nos ensinar: experiÃªncias
dos povos indÃgenas do Rio Negro. M. A.
Thesis, Anthropology Department,
University of Brasilia.
Sahlins, M. (1978). Culture and practical
reason. Chicago, University of Chicago
Verdum, R. (2006). Etnodesenvolvimento:
nova/velha utopia do indigenismo. Ph.D.
Dissertation, CEPPAC, University of Brasilia.
by Myrna Cunningham K.
and Dennis Mairena A.,
Center for Indigenous Peopleâ€™s Autonomy
and Development (CIPAD),
If I Have It You Have It,
If You Have It I Have It
For the indigenous peoples
of Nicaragua, developmentâ€”
as a tool for survival and
well-beingâ€”is based on
the rational and sustainable
exploitation of the natural
resources available in
This model of development
is being threatened from
the outside by logging
in the river heads and basins.
Poverty in Focus May 2009 9
In Nicaragua, indigenous peoples have
had their rights to ownership of ancestral
lands protected by autonomy statutes
that created autonomous regions in the
countryâ€™s Caribbean area. Significant
steps were taken towards demarcating
and titling the territories of many
indigenous peoples. All this is tied to a
system of ancestral communitarian
institutions, which in turn are linked to
the territorial government at the
municipal and regional levels. Currently,
efforts are being made to establish
interactions in the provision of health
care, education, communitarian justice
and the election of authorities. All of this
can be regarded as an inward-oriented
framework of governance.
There is another, outward-oriented
sphere of development that focuses on
relations with the state and other actors.
In this sphere, indigenous peoples have
to take into account collective interests,
and have to manage and negotiate, for
instance, the granting of concessions or
the massive use of natural resources by
the community or outsiders. After the
destruction caused by Hurricane Felix in
September 2007, for example,
communities and regional authorities set
provisions for the use of fallen timber in
building individual houses and
communal infrastructure. Surpluses of
fallen timber were sold to outsiders, to
non-members of the communities and to
people from other regions.
Both inward- and outward-oriented
relationships have become part of the
Nicaraguan constitution, which stipulates
that development is the result of
balanced, multiethnic and multicultural
interrelations marked by the right to selfdetermination and guided by the regional
autonomy statutes. This opened the
doors to citizenship rights, and today
indigenous peoples have access to power
and the right to make their own decisions.
Some examples illustrate this concept
of development and how it works.
The products of hunting or fishing
are usually distributed or exchanged
between members of the community,
as are grains, tubercles and timber.
Hunting and fishing within the
territory are divided in time and space.
These activities are not always carried
out in the same place and they are not
frequent. Remote places are chosen,
which might entail several days of
travel from the community. This practice
involves a collective effort among several
men, strengthening communitarian
unity and allowing the intergenerational
transmission of knowledge of the
management of nature. Among the Rama
people, the extraction of oyster shells in
the Bluefields Lagoon is something done
mostly by children, teenagers and
women, and it takes place very close to
the community. So too does the collection
of coconuts in coastal indigenous
communities. Regardless of the
differences, all these activities are marked
by a high sense of the collective aspect of
labour and of the distribution of its fruits.
The rainforest and the pine plains, the
lagoons and the shores, the keys and
the reefs, do not consist only of the
wealth inherent in their high biodiversity
content, which from the outside could be
viewed as a mega-supermarket. For
indigenous peoples they are something
more far-reaching. In principle, they
represent the survival and development
of culture, of spirituality, and they are
also a source of food, housing, health,
education, and the instruments of
labour and of households. They provide
for everyone and for everything.
This model of development is being
threatened from the outside by logging
in the river heads and basins, a result
of the advancing agricultural frontiers
and the presence of invading settlers; and
by chemical pollution due to the
misuse of pesticides in the highlands,
the residues of which are drawn to the
coastal lagoons and reefs, poisoning
everything in their path.
The effects of climate change are already
being felt in the territories, in the form of
larger and more frequent hurricanes and
floods that menace the biodiversity and
the crops. Hence the life and welfare
of indigenous peoples are jeopardised.
by Jaime Urrutia Ceruti
Centro Regional para la Salvaguardia
del Patrimonio Cultural Inmaterial de
AmÃ©rica Latina (CRESPIAL),
Ethnic Identity and
Development in Peru
Except for small isolated
communities, the indigenous peoples
of the Andean countries, particularly
in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, are large
demographic groups fully connected
to the modern national societies in
which they live. The social movement of
indigenous peoples in Peru, in contrast
to those in Bolivia and in Ecuador, has
not been an important political actor.
This difference between the three
countries has been the subject of a
number of analyses based on various
hypotheses. The lack of political
mobilisation among Peruâ€™s indigenous
peoples makes it harder for them
to have a voice in policymaking
and development planning, as well as
to resist development projects that
are culturally threatening. It also
makes them more prone to succumb
to efforts at cultural homogenisation.
In Peru, the Aymara
and Quechua peoples
of the Sierra highlands
have chosen the â€œpeasantâ€
identity in their quest
for citizenship. To be
incorporated into Peruvian
society, they renounced their
indigenous identities and
10 International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
The weakness of indigenous peoplesâ€™
organisations in Peru stems partly
from the absence of indigenous elites,
which hinders the formation of an
â€œidentitarianâ€ discourse to foster
political mobilisation. For that reason,
many of those who deal with
indigenous issues in the country
have an essentialist, exotic and
superficial view of the â€œnative peoplesâ€.
Identity building entails the creation
and strengthening of indigenous
peoplesâ€™ leadership and organisations.
In Peru, there are virtually no indigenous
organisations except in the
In Ecuador and Bolivia, the indigenous
movement has been a major player on
the political scene for several decades.
This is due to the presence of a strong
indigenous identity rooted in deep
symbolic references, as well as to
identitarian discourses, which are
used to foster mobilisation and give
cohesion to political action. In Peru,
by contrast, the Aymara and Quechua
peoples of the Sierra highlands have
chosen the â€œpeasantâ€ identity in
their quest for citizenship. To be
incorporated into Peruvian society, they
renounced their indigenous identities
and cultural expressions.
This might be because Peruvian society
is more permeable than Ecuadorean or
Bolivian society. Hence the choice
of a peasant identity might serve
as a means to upward mobility.
In Ecuador and Bolivia, ethnic leaders
and organisations point to the existence
of a â€œfixed identityâ€ that prevents those
indigenous peoples living in poverty
from accessing channels for upward
mobility, and thus from having greater
income and higher living standards.
A common feature of these three
countries is that their current
constitutions and official statements
stress that they are multilingual and
multicultural societies. Recently, the
term â€œmulticulturalismâ€ has been used
increasingly to affirm a purported
positive dialogue between different
cultures, although it does so
misleadingly. Moreover, thanks to the
intervention of international financial
agencies, a paradox of globalisation
these days is that there is great interest
in building and strengthening indigenous
organisations. This approach helps
undermine the view, still prevalent
in Peru, that regards indigenous
peoples as peasants.
In the new and recently approved
constitutions of Ecuador and, particularly,
Bolivia, recognition of indigenous
peoples is key to the political conception
of both nations. Laws and norms,
however, are in a realm far above
practices on the ground, where in many
public institutions, private enterprises
and political parties, the concepts of
multiculturalism and multilingualism are
seldom applied and marginalisation of
the â€œotherâ€ culture, which does not
comply with the hegemonic one,
is still the rule.
Currently, in Peru, there is widespread
awareness of the vital need to listen to
the voices of those who allegedly are
to be beneficiaries of social policies and
development projects, as well as the
need to decentralise public
administration in order to implement
programmes that are better tailored to
their target groups. But it seems that
much time will be needed before these
ideas are put into practice, before
concrete programmes and projects
start to take account of the voices
of the indigenous peoples that
will be affected.
For these voices to be heard in
policymaking and development
planning, two key questions must be
answered. What is meant by development?
And how can it be achieved without
disregarding the cultural characteristics
of indigenous peoples?
Since the establishment of nation-states
in Latin America, the presence of
indigenous peoples was almost always
perceived as an â€œobstacle to developmentâ€.
This ideological assessment led to
the exclusion and marginalisation
of indigenous peoples, not only from
full citizenship but also from government
policies that essentially sought to bring
about the cultural standardisation of
their nations following the patterns
of the hegemonic culture, the one
bequeathed by the European colonisers.
This objective, for instance, was
clearly stated in Article 75 of the
Peruvian constitution of 1828:
â€œThe duties of these [provincial]
boards are â€¦ to endeavour to
reduce and civilise the neighbouring
indigenous tribes of the province,
and attract them to our society by
These are not only nineteenth-century
views. Mainstream conceptions of
development still reflect the goal of
cultural homogenisation, and they
disregard indigenous rights and
indigenous views of development.
Recently, in Colombia, indigenous
peoples refused a government
proposal to establish a rural
development policy on the grounds
that it would affect their territorial
rights and autonomy. Their protest was
not an isolated one; there have been
many more in the Andean countries.
In the past few decades, particularly
in Bolivia and Ecuador, the political
participation of indigenous peoples
has intensified and they have gradually
started to devise and present their own
development proposals. Some of these
proposals call into question the very
concept of development.
In this regard it is worth quoting
Carlos Viteri, an Ecuadorean indigenous
intellectual, who once said:
â€œIn the weltanschauung of indigenous
societies, in their understanding of the
purpose and meaning that the lives of
people have and should have, there is
not a concept of development. That is,
there is no conception of life in a linear
process, establishing a before and an
Since the establishment
of nation-states in
the presence of
was almost always
perceived as an â€œobstacle
Poverty in Focus May 2009 11
after stage, namely, sub-developed and
developed; dichotomy through which
peoples must pass to achieve a desirable
life, as in the Western world. Nor there
are any notions of wealth and poverty
determined by the accumulation or lack
of material goodsâ€.*
Even without wishing, in so few lines,
to engage in a discussion of this
radical questioning of the concept of
development, one must recognise that
the expectations of indigenous peoples
are divorced from the development
proposals made by the public apparatus.
â€œDevelopment with identityâ€ requires
that the two be reconciled.
Albeit slowly, increasing awareness
of the need for this reconciliation
has given strength to some sustainable
development proposals based on
initiatives arising from indigenous
organisations. These proposals bring
together territorial development and
cultural identity under the umbrella
concept of â€œdevelopment with identityâ€.
Governments that want their policies
and development programmes to meet
some of the prime expectations of
indigenous peoples can learn some
important lessons from these proposals.
Essentially, they involve three
significant issues for indigenous peoples:
recognition of land and territory, of
language, and of collective rights.
Recognition of their lands as territories
that have some degree of autonomy is
arguably the main claim made by
indigenous peoples, but it is a claim
that politicians and bureaucrats are
unwilling to address. The state, by
reserving the right to underground
resources, prioritises what it regards
as the â€œnational interestâ€ (that is,
investment from large corporations
that will exploit natural resources) at the
expense of indigenous peopleâ€™s rights
to their ancestral lands. Additionally,
settlers and enterprises routinely
A recent mobilisation of indigenous
peoples from Peruvian Amazonia
sought the stateâ€™s full recognition
of the communitiesâ€™ lands, rejecting
what they called, ironically, â€œthe law of
the jungleâ€, which was a government
attempt to ease private access to
communal lands and foster
â€œdevelopmentâ€. Any such development
proposal will be doomed to failure
and will cause unnecessary conflict
if it does not recognise and delimit
the ancestral lands of indigenous
peoples in line with their expectations.
Resistance to menacing development
proposals, however, depends on
the level of political mobilisation,
which in Peru is higher among
Amazonian indigenous peoples.
The second issue is the defence and
strengthening of indigenous languages,
including full recognition of the right to
basic education in those languages.
From an intercultural perspective,
this is important in order to reinforce
identities and raise the self-esteem
of indigenous individuals. Identity
and self-esteem are crucial for political
mobilisation, as well as for building
the leadership and organisations
that can make viable development
proposals in line with indigenous
peoplesâ€™ expectations and offer resistance
to proposals that are threatening.
The third issue is recognition of collective
rights, including the rights to land,
territory and to basic education in
indigenous languages. Collective rights
also encompass knowledge, skills,
techniques and diverse cultural practices.
â€œDevelopment with identityâ€ refers to
initiatives that seek to combine the
needs of indigenous peoples, as they
themselves see them, with the needs of
development seen through western eyes.
On the one hand, no matter how well
intended, no development proposal
formulated in a western mould will
succeed without consultation and
adaptation to the needs of the
indigenous peoples involved.
On the other hand, no development
proposal advanced by indigenous
peoples will be viable if it does
not seek harmonious relations with
national society and take account of
their insertion into that society.
Recognition of their
lands as territories that
have some degree of
autonomy is arguably
the main claim made
by indigenous peoples,
but it is a claim
and bureaucrats are
unwilling to address.
The state, by reserving
the right to underground
what it regards as the
at the expense of
rights to their
* Speech at the symposium on â€œIndigenous Rights
and Development in Latin Americaâ€, Germany, 2004.
12 International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
When Amartya Sen (1999)
redefined development in terms of
freedom, he argued that political
freedoms are required along with security,
opportunity and transparency to realise
economic development. Central to his
perspective is the recognition that the
goal of development is to enhance
human freedom, including peopleâ€™s
ability to shape their own destiny.
Senâ€™s work also promotes the values and
institutions of the liberal democratic state.
Dipesh Chakrabarty (2000), however, has
argued against the identification of the
modern state with freedom, an identity
achieved through projects of reform,
progress and development that may be
coercive or violent. Also at risk in
development projects are other freedoms
that may not be acknowledged or
protected by liberal states.
For indigenous peoples, the balance
between freedom and development is
always delicate, as can be learned from
the case of a bauxite mining project in
west Suriname.* The author visited the
Ok Tedi copper and gold mines in
Papua New Guinea and seen firsthand
the devastating consequences of the
project (see Kirsch, 2006) the experience
encouraged the author to move back in
the production cycle to collaborate with
indigenous communities that were
at risk from new mining projects.
A key challenge of this work is the
difficulty in conveying the stakes of
these development projects to people
who lack previous experience of
negotiating with mining companies.
Even witnessing the impacts of decades
of bauxite mining in east Suriname was
not enough to dissuade the Lokono and
Trio from supporting the Bakhuis project,
because the mining company assured
them that the new project would be
different. The purpose of the authorâ€™s trip
by Stuart Kirsch,
University of Michigan,
Ann Arbor, United States
was to assist these communities
by contributing to an independent
review of the corporate-sponsored
environmental and social impact
assessment of the bauxite mine.
The Lokono and Trio peoples living
along the Corantijn River generally
support the mining project in the
Bakhuis Mountains because of the
economic benefits they hope it will
bring them, though they also express
concerns about its social and
But their ability to consent to the project
is compromised by Surinameâ€™s refusal to
recognise indigenous land rights, which
contravenes its international obligations.
Suriname approved the 2007 United
Nations Declaration on the Rights
of Indigenous Peoples, but in 2008
the Inter-American Court criticised the
country for ignoring indigenous and
Maroon land rights. For the Lokono
and Trio, their lack of legal title to their
land creates a double bind: they must
endorse the project if they wish to
influence it or benefit from its
operation. The result is a coercive
form of participation that bears little
resemblance to the standard of free,
prior and informed consent.
Attitudes towards the project have
also been influenced by the lack of
independent information about the
social and environmental impacts of the
bauxite mine, which is expected to stripmine at least 5 per cent of its 3,000 km2
concession during a period of 50 years.
Even with the promise of progressive
reforestation, the effects of the project
are likely to be extensive and longlasting, including potential impacts on
the three major watersheds of the region:
the Corantijn, Nickerie and Coppename
Rivers. The bauxite mine may also affect
For indigenous peoples,
the balance between freedom
and development is always
delicate, as can be learned
from the case of a bauxite
mining project in
Even witnessing the impacts
of decades of bauxite mining
in east Suriname was not
enough to dissuade the
Lokono and Trio from
supporting the Bakhuis
project, because the mining
company assured them
that the new project
would be different.
At present they expect
the development of the
mine to provide them
with new forms of economic
freedom, but it may also
reduce other important
with being indigenous.
* The work of the author in Suriname was supported
by the International Development Research Centre,
the North-South Institute and the Association of
Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname (Bureau VIDS).
Acknowledgements go to the Lokono and Trio captains
for their assistance, and to Carla Madsian for her insight
Poverty in Focus May 2009 13
Maroon communities living on
the Nickerie River and indigenous
communities located on the Guyanese
banks of the Corantijn River.
Central to indigenous identity in
Suriname are practices of hunting and
fishing in the rain forest. The Lokono and
Trio value their freedom of movement
and are able to use the resources of
other indigenous peoples once they
have secured their permission. Paul
Riesman once described the importance
that the Fulani attach to independence,
suggesting that the principle of freedom
is â€œfounded on the possibility of each
personâ€™s entering into a direct relation
with â€¦ nature without the mediation of
another person or any social institutionâ€
(Riesman, 1998, p. 257). Something similar
might be said about the Lokono and Trio,
who equate freedom with being able to
leave the village on hunting and fishing
trips to the rain forest.
The Lokono, however, have already
observed a decline in certain fish species
and game animals, and the mining
project will certainly have further impacts
on local wildlife. The mining concession
was off-limits to local use during the
exploration phase of the project.
A proposed conservation area would not
prohibit indigenous hunting and fishing,
but neither would it guarantee the
Lokono and Trio future access to these
lands. In response to a question about
the potential effects of the mine on the
environment, one of the indigenous
leaders declared that if hunting and
fishing were no longer possible in the
vicinity of their villages, they would ask
the mining company to provide them
with transport to better hunting and
fishing grounds. It is difficult for them to
imagine a world in which they would no
longer have free access to the forest for
hunting and fishing, a circumstance that
would contravene one of their strongest
cultural values, yet the mining project
may hasten its materialisation.
Specialised knowledge about the rain
forest, including traditional medicines,
is decreasing across generational lines.
More fundamentally, their underlying
relationship to the forests and the
animals that live there are also
vulnerable to change. These interactions
include making libations and direct
invocations to the animals hunted
or the trees cut down as a way of asking
permission, as one must ask the owners
of the land before using their resources.
There are also rules to guide interactions
with animals and trees, rules that favour
conservation over accumulation. A sacred
relationship connects these people to
the landscape in ways that transcend
economic value, including compensation.
Despite their ties to place, the Lokono
and Trio have become enchanted by
the prospect of economic development.
Although the men recognise that
modern mining projects provide
relatively few jobs, they hope the mine
will have a trickle-down effect on the
local economy. Comparative evidence,
however, suggests that when economic
opportunities arise, people with greater
social capital will be better placed to
exploit them. The main economic
concerns of the women in these
communities are related to the ways in
which gender roles have already been
affected by the cash economy. In the
past, there was a complement to their
sexual division of labour.
For example, both men and women
contributed labour to making gardens,
with men clearing the forest and women
planting, weeding and harvesting the
plots. In contrast, men now have greater
control over financial resources and
women object to their increasing
dependence on them. The women hope
the mining project will stimulate the
local economy, creating opportunities
for them to become more directly
involved in the cash economy and
independent of men. Finally, young men
support the mining project because of
their desire for vocational training, job
opportunities and university education.
With the development of the mine,
the region will become more densely
populated. People will open businesses
to provide supplies to the mine. The
town will become a magnet for people
seeking employment, many of whom
will stay even if they do not find jobs.
Members of the indigenous communities
expressed concerns about the influence
that people with different cultural
â€œmannersâ€ and practices will have on
their lives, especially on local women.
Currently, outsiders tend to be
assimilated into local modes of
interaction, such as asking permission
before using local resources, but this
dynamic is likely to change along with
regional demography. The very thing the
indigenous communities are trying to
safeguard through new economic
activityâ€”good life in the villagesâ€”is
vulnerable to elimination by an influx
In the wake of the global economic
downturn, the primary developer has
withdrawn from the bauxite project
in west Suriname, although the
government continues to search for
an alternative corporate partner.
The resulting hiatus provides the Lokono
and Trio with an opportunity to consider
whether the proposed mining project is
compatible with their most important
cultural values, including their freedom
to hunt and fish in the rain forest, the
kinds of relationships they have with the
trees and animals with which they share
the landscape, and the kinds of social
relations they have among themselves.
At present they expect the development
of the mine to provide them with new
forms of economic freedom, but it may
also reduce other important freedoms
associated with being indigenous,
freedoms that are not recognised or
protected by the state.
Chakrabarty, D. (2000). Provincializing
Europe. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
Kirsch, S. (2006). Reverse Anthropology.
Stanford, Stanford University Press.
Riesman, P. (1998). Freedom in Fulani Social
Life. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Sen, A. (1999). Development as freedom.
New York, Random House.
about the rain forest,
medicines, is decreasing
across generational lines
… relationship to the
forests and the animals
that live there are also
vulnerable to change.
14 International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
â€œDevelopmentâ€ is intimately related
to the history and pretentious
universalism of western thought
(Rist, 1997), which makes it hard for
those socialised under it to understand
and accept other visions of the world.
In the West itself this notion has been
challenged, adapted and renewed in
order to overcome the negative
connotations that have become attached
to it over time and to ensure that it
continues to spread. This has led to
an expansion of the definition, yielding
concepts such as â€œeco-developmentâ€,
developmentâ€ and â€œdevelopment
with identityâ€. Among these enlarged
definitions, that of â€œsustainable
developmentâ€ became the overarching
policy framework for the Brazilian
Amazonia. The move towards sustainable
development called attention to the
environmental consequences of classic
â€œdevelopmentâ€ and its negative impact
on the welfare of indigenous peoples.
Conceptual changes, however, were not
enough to overcome all the drawbacks
of the approach. This article addresses
the paradoxes and challenges of
sustainable development through a case
study of the Ashaninka of the AmÃ´nia
River, who enjoyed relative success in
fitting into this framework.
The Ashaninka people live in a wide and
discontinuous territory that extends from
Peruâ€™s Selva Central region to the head of
the JuruÃ¡ River in Acre, Brazil. Only a
fraction of them, about 1,000 people, live
in Brazilian territory, half of these in the
vicinity of the AmÃ´nia River. In four
centuries of contact with the western
world, the Ashaninka experienced
different kinds of â€œdevelopmentâ€.
Historically, â€œdevelopmentâ€ and
colonisation were intertwined leading to
their exploitation and forced integration
into the dominant society. â€œCivilizationâ€
and â€œdevelopmentâ€ were brought about
by various agents: missionaries, settlers,
rubber tappers, ranchers, politicians,
by JosÃ© Pimenta,
University of Brasilia, Brazil Twisting Development:
the Ashaninka Way
private companies, guerrilla movements
and so on. Contact with the bearers
of â€œdevelopmentâ€ had dramatic
consequences, such as epidemics,
slavery and forced acculturation.
In the first half of the 1980s, the
Ashaninka were particularly affected
by the policy of the military dictatorship
(1964â€“1985) to colonise the Brazilian
Amazonia. This policy was marked by the
traditional approach to â€œdevelopmentâ€
and an effort to â€œintegrateâ€ indigenous
peoples into the dominant society.
Their territory became prey to loggers,
and wood extraction rates skyrocketed
to feed the ever hungry saw mills. Great
harm was done to the environment:
deforestation, pollution of rivers and loss
of biodiversity. The native way of living
was jeopardised by environmental
deterioration that hindered vital activities
such as hunting and fishing. During this
period, Ashaninka families were obliged
to work for loggers in the semi-slavery
system of debt peonage. The situation
began to change in the early 1990s.
With the support of several partners,
the Ashaninka organised to expel the
loggers and to demand the demarcation
of their land from the Department for
Indigenous Affairs (FUNAI), a demand
that was met in 1992.
Thereafter, Ashaninka leaders began to
express their political and cultural claims
using the environmental rhetoric of
â€œsustainable developmentâ€. By doing
so they were able to implement several
projects: handicraft production and trade,
reforestation of areas degraded by
logging, and wildlife management.
In the last 15 years, thanks to the
successful outcomes of these projects,
the Ashaninka of the AmÃ´nia River have
attained an unprecedented level of
political visibility and have become
archetypical examples of the â€œecological
indianâ€. Although politically efficient in
the current historical context, there are
caveats about this image of â€œecological
Ashaninka leaders began to
express their political and
cultural claims using the
environmental rhetoric of
The Ashaninka of the
AmÃ´nia River have attained
an unprecedented level
of political visibility and
have become archetypical
examples of the
The same people who once
destroyed the forest and
polluted the rivers now
purport to show the
Ashaninka the right way to
fish, hunt and plant with due
regard for the environment.
Poverty in Focus May 2009 15
indiansâ€, since the notion might reignite
the old â€œmyth of the good savageâ€.
This is a form of prejudice that reduces
indigenous peoples to an animalised
status, part of nature instead of culture.
While the Ashaninka see representatives
of the western world, essentially, as
nature predators, many sustainable
development projects, despite their
new clothes, retain the old discourse
of bringing civilization to the savages
and have embedded the paternalism
that has long marked interethnic relations.
Several good initiatives that claim to
value indigenous culture and lifestyle
culminate in asymmetrical relationships
in which white people play the role of
instructors. The same people who once
destroyed the forest and polluted the
rivers now purport to show the
Ashaninka the right way to fish,
hunt and plant with due regard for the
environment. Sustainable development
planners view Ashaninka culture in a
stereotyped way that does not reflect
reality but rather the fantasies of western
societies about what indigenous peoples
and cultures are and how they behave.
Hence the people involved in these
projects end up trying to teach the
Ashaninka their own culture. Fully aware
of this and many other paradoxes,
the Ashaninka react with irony and
perplexity to such attempts to teach
them to be themselves.
Generally speaking, the problem
of the â€œnewâ€ ideology of sustainable
development is that it continues to
prioritise economic matters rather than
social, cultural and environmental issues,
even though it seeks to diminish the
negative impacts of traditional
conceptions of â€œdevelopmentâ€.
Furthermore, sustainable development
has not managed to overcome the
western worldviewâ€™s historical lack of
capacity to deal with cultural diversity.
Since nature is still considered an
economic resource, albeit one that
should be carefully explored so as not
to exhaust it, sustainable development
projects retain a vision of integrating
indigenous societies into the market
economy. This commodity logic is alien
to the Ashaninka culture, in which trade
is guided by a gift logic.
The Ashaninka have a pragmatic view of
sustainable development projects. They
see them as a way of acquiring essential
western goods on which they have
become dependent, such as salt, soap
and ammunition. They have â€œindigenisedâ€
sustainable development, thinking
of â€œprojectsâ€ as a semantic equivalent of
â€œcommodityâ€. Their desire for projects has
become analogous to their desire for
other plain goods from white people.
Sustainable development became a
new means of trading with outsiders,
interpreted from the perspective of their
traditional trade logic (Pimenta, 2006).
However, when they try to adapt the
rules of a commodity economy to their
gift system, the Ashaninka pose new
challenges for themselves. Insertion into
a â€œproject marketâ€, for instance, has led
to the concentration of political and
economic power among them.
The increasing trend towards wealth
accumulation threatens their egalitarian
tradition. Bringing about their
participation in the market economy
without introducing social inequality
has become a source of significant
concern. Living through the period of
â€œsustainable developmentâ€ is, perhaps,
the major challenge for the Ashaninka,
as it is for some other indigenous
peoples in Amazonia.
Some projects, though limited and
biased, arise from a real concern for and
commitment to the environment and the
future of indigenous peoples. But the
generality of the multiple meanings
surrounding the idea of sustainable
development have made an umbrella of
the concept, under which vested interests
gather. Stamped as sustainable
development, some projects receive
funding from multilateral development
agencies even though they foster
the colonisation of indigenous lands
and the predatory exploitation of the
environment, thereby spreading the
maladies they should be fighting and
in many cases resulting in ethnocide.
Intense wood extraction in the Peruvian
Amazonia, for example, impacts the
Ashaninka of the AmÃ´nia River and
other indigenous peoples, including the
remaining isolated groups that are not
in contact with the modern world in
the Peru-Brazil border areas. On the
other side of the border, the Brazilian
governmentâ€™s current development
strategy (the Growth Acceleration
Programme or PAC), though tinged
by greenish rhetoric, has also been
regularly accused by indigenous and
environmentalist organisations of
disregarding indigenous rights
and threatening the environment.
To the Ashaninka, sustainable
development presents itself as
productive â€œmisunderstandingâ€ (Sahlins,
1981). It allows them to acquire muchdesired western goods without losing
their particular identity. Notwithstanding
its enormous challenges, for them
sustainable development is an economic
alternative to predatory logging. Despite
that, it is important to bear in mind that
the relative success of the Ashaninka
of the AmÃ´nia River as archetypes of
the â€œecological indianâ€ is due to a specific
historical context, which allowed them
to value their â€œcultureâ€ in the inter-ethnic
arena by making their territory
productive in the eyes of the West.
Other Ashaninka groups in Brazil
and in Peru, however, have not
succeeded in taking advantage of
sustainable development. They continue
to suffer the consequences of the many
versions of western development
and green capitalism. Sustainable
development can be promising, but
it must not be reduced to the simple
commoditisation of the indian (Ramos,
2006) and indigenous lands, nor serve as
a cloak for the Westâ€™s greed. To fulfil its
promises, sustainable development must
be thought of as â€œdevelopmentsâ€, the
plural denoting true respect for diversity,
which encompasses complex cultural
settings and a variety of historical
situations, different worldviews and
long-term societal goals.
Pimenta, J. (2006). â€œDe lâ€™Ã©change traditionnel
Ã lâ€™Ã©conomie du â€˜dÃ©veloppement durableâ€™.
La notion de â€˜projetâ€™ entre les Ashaninka du
Haut-JuruÃ¡ (Amazonie brÃ©silienne)â€, Cahiers
du BrÃ©sil Contemporain 63/64, 17â€“50.
Ramos, A. R. (2006) â€œThe commoditisation
of the indianâ€, in: Darrell Posey e Michael
Balick. (eds), Human impacts on Amazonia:
the role of traditional ecological knowledge
in conservation and development.
New York, Columbia University Press.
Rist, G. (1997). The History of Development.
From Western Origins to Global Faith.
London, Zed Books.
Sahlins, M. (1981). Historical Metaphors and
Mythical Realities. Structure in the Early
History of the Sandwich Islands Kingdom.
Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press.
16 International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
Indigenous poverty in Guatemala today
is both scandalous and paradoxical.
The scandal is rooted not just in the
mind-numbing statistics but, more
centrally, in the underlying relations
of racial inequality. A large percentage of
Guatemalans are poor; the gap between
the poverty rates of indigenous people
and the dominant-culture ladinos is wide
(World Bank, 2004); and racism plays
a major role in these disparities. It is
now widely affirmed that during the
internal armed conflict the Guatemalan
state committed genocide against the
Mayan people. Persisting poverty and
inequality amount to a continuation
of that genocide by other means.
The poverty scandal coexists,
paradoxically, with a dramatic rise in
indigenous organisations since the
1980s. These efforts have challenged
racism, opened spaces for autonomous
organisation and forced the state to
recognise indigenous rights. However,
such achievements have had two
perverse effects: deeper socioeconomic
divisions among the Maya; and a ready
alibi for the state, which diverts attention
from the root causes of social suffering.
Despite wide agreement that the
situation is bleak, the details are subject
to dispute. Official statistics report that
40 per cent of Guatemalaâ€™s roughly 13
million people are indigenous, while
many Maya intellectuals charge
â€œstatistical ethnocideâ€ and place
the figure much higher. Multilateral
development organisations affirm the
link between poverty and racism, but
they portray racism as collections of
aberrant attitudes rather than as
relations structured into the very
economic model that they uncritically
endorse. Anti-poverty programmes focus
on brute deprivation, less on inequality,
and not at all on the genocidal
by Charles R. Hale,
Teresa Lozano Long Institute of
Latin American Studies,
University of Texas at Austin,
From Genocide to
the Mayas of Guatemala
consequences of the malign neglect
that the system fosters. Dominant actors
recognise Maya political-cultural rights,
but discourage the extension of this
discussion into the economic realm.
Now that cultural rights have a place
in the national political arena, the next
challenge for Maya organisations is
to re-centre economic well-being
as a key component in their struggles.
Widespread indigenous mobilisation
in the 1970s had a strong economic
dimension, which was overshadowed
by the political violence that followed.
Green revolution technologies, combined
with effective, cooperative organisation,
generated prospects for sustenance and
even modest economic advancement,
without the need for labour to migrate
to the plantations. At the same time,
those who continued as semiproletarians began to clamour for higher
wages and better working conditions.
These economic demands, combined
with modest political and cultural
affirmation, were too much for the
powers-that-be to tolerate. State
repression and guerrilla organisation
grew in tandem, each feeding on the
other. When the state unleashed its
counterinsurgency campaign in full
force, rural Mayasâ€”whether they had
been organising autonomously, joined
the guerrilla, or simply had been caught
in the sweepâ€”bore the brunt
Their economic advances succumbed
to genocidal ruin: 200,000 dead and
disappeared; 626 villages razed; 1.5
million refugees and internally displaced
(CEH, 1999). Not until the mid 1980s,
when the armed conflict had mostly
subsided and the trappings of
democracy were reinstated, could the
Maya begin to pick up the pieces.
It is now widely affirmed that
during the internal armed
conflict the Guatemalan state
committed genocide against
the Mayan people.
Persisting poverty and
inequality amount to a
continuation of that
genocide by other means.
mobilisation in the 1970s had
a strong economic dimension,
which was overshadowed
by the political violence
The government now
acknowledges the racism
of decades past and admits
that vestiges persist,
but affirms its declining
importance and offers these
very acknowledgements as
evidence of the decline.
Poverty in Focus May 2009 17
With the late 1980s as a dismal baseline,
and comparatively favourable overall
economic conditions over the next
decade, it is shocking how little progress
was made towards the elimination of
indigenous poverty. Overall economic
growth between 1990 and 2000 was a
respectable 2â€“3 per cent a year.
A recent World Bank study (2004),
however, reported a paltry overall decline
in indigenous poverty over that period
(14 per cent), and marshalled data to
show that Mayas had â€œfallen behindâ€
ladinos both in absolute poverty and in
the rate of poverty reduction. In 2000,
74 per cent of indigenous households
were poor, and a third of these suffered
from extreme poverty. An astounding
93 per cent earned income from the
â€œinformal sectorâ€, which made them
acutely vulnerable to the global
economic volatility that followed.
Yet these were the same years when
Maya activists and intellectuals burst
onto the political scene, forming
hundreds of non-governmental
organisations, agitating for rights,
gaining higher education and making
modest gains towards political
empowerment. In the absence of this
effervescence, the 25 per cent of Mayas
who were counted as â€œnon-poorâ€ in 2000
would certainly have been fewer still; yet
this sector also surely benefited much
more from the cultural-political rights
gained than did the other three-quarters,
who were barely scraping by.
Since the early years of the new
millennium, Maya rights organisations
have faced an impasse. Generalised
racism persists and the full range of
collective rights is far from secured, yet
these overall problems affect the Maya
population differently according to their
The state seems prepared to continue
opening spaces for the 25 per cent, as
long as these beneficiaries de-emphasise
demands that would address the
desperate economic conditions of the
rest. An especially perverse feature of this
Faustian bargain is the assertion that the
modest advancement of a few â€œprovesâ€
that racism no longer operates to keep
the majority in their place. Ladinos of left
and right often concur in endorsing
this underlying premise, which makes
Maya organisations wary of both sides.
With some exceptions, however, these
organisations find it difficult to bridge
the intracultural divide. This troubling
contradiction sums up the impasse:
the newly achieved cultural rights
are salutary, yet they bolster a politics
that perpetuates anti-Maya racism.
In 1978, many would surely have
objected to the assertion that racism
was a fundamental cause of indigenous
poverty. But the idea would meet little
resistance today, as long as key verbs
remain in the past tense.
The government now acknowledges the
racism of decades past and admits that
vestiges persist, but affirms its declining
importance and offers these very
acknowledgements as evidence of the
decline. Beneath this reasoning lies
an understanding of racism as largely
attitudinal: person A believes that person
B, by virtue of his or her race, to be
congenitally inferior. As those attitudes
decline, racism diminishes. Although
recent polls suggest that significant
numbers of ladinos and Euro-Guatemalans
still harbour such attitudes, the downward
trend is clear.
If this attitude-based understanding of
racial inequality were indeed sufficient,
we might join Guatemalaâ€™s powerholders in their self-congratulation.
The challenge on the horizon is to
understand and combat the new racism,
which has no flagrant perpetrators
and which generates scandalous
consequences while disavowing
the premises of racial inferiority.
To document its workings, we must look
first at statistics and structural conditions
rather than at attitudes and ideologies.
Geographer Ruth Gilmore (2002) offers
a parsimonious definition: â€œdifferential
propensities for premature death.â€
In addition to poverty, relevant
data are racially differentiated rates
of life expectancy, disease, education,
incarceration and ill-distributed
state expenditures that would affect
these basic life conditions. When
acknowledged at all, these disparities
are explained as an inherited feature of
the system, reproduced by indigenous
peoples themselves, whose culture has
left them ill-equipped to meet the
challenges of economic modernity.
In 1988, a group of intellectuals from
the Maya organisation Coordinadora
Cackchiquel para el Desarollo IndÃgena
(COCADI) addressed the poverty scandal
directly, and staked out a position called
â€œla via maya del desarrolloâ€ (the Maya
road to development). They argued that
the Maya people have their own culturallyspecific understanding of â€œdevelopmentâ€,
which is in stark contrast to Western
definitions, and their own millenarian
experience and wisdom to draw
on for its implementation.
According to this view, the main
obstacles to â€œdevelopmentâ€ were racism,
which denigrates Maya culture, and
material inequality, which deprives
Mayas of the resources necessary
to put their cultural principles to work.
Twenty years later, this article stands
as a clarion call on which few have
elaborated. There are two main reasons
for this reticence.
The first is continuing state repression.
In the mid 1980s, when the government
began to seem receptive to cultural
rights demands (approving, for example,
the Academy of Maya Languages),
public discourse on the highly skewed
nationwide distribution of landed
property was still taboo. Ten years
later, the peace accords between the
government and the guerrilla codified
this contrast, affirming new principles
of indigenous cultural-political rights,
but adamantly endorsing the status
quo in the countryâ€™s agrarian structure.
The challenge on the
horizon is to understand
and combat the new
racism, which has no
flagrant perpetrators …
to document its workings,
we must look first at
18 International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
The Nivkhi are a Siberian people
numbering some 5,000 who live on
Sakhalin Island off the Russian Pacific
coast, just north of Japan, and along the
banks of the nearby Amur River delta.
For centuries they lived and traded in
the cosmopolitan world of East Asia,
engaging the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans
and Russians who travelled through, and
who sometimes laid claim to their lands.
It was not until 1925, however, when the
October Revolution had travelled far
enough east to firmly establish the
Soviet government in the furthest
reaches of the former Russian empire,
that their lives changed so
fundamentally and dramatically.
Though few in numbers, the Nivkhi
(or Giliaki, in the prerevolutionary
Nivkhi are just one of many
indigenous peoples of
Siberia and the Russian
Far East. Yet their experience
is emblematic of what
â€œdevelopmentâ€ came to
mean in the context of
and how significantly this
differed from the varied
by Bruce Grant,
New York University, United States The Nivkhi under
In 1994, when the Maya intellectual
Demetrio CojtÃ teamed up with the
Consejo de Organizaciones Mayas de
Guatemala (COMG) to make an audacious
proposal for state recognition of Maya
rights to autonomy, dominant sectors
responded with hostility, which thwarted
serious discussion of the issue. If the
document had gone on to spell out the
need for wealth redistribution in order
for these political rights to be achieved, it
could well have put CojtÃâ€™s life in danger.
As a slogan guiding top-down
institutional initiatives, â€œdevelopment
with identityâ€ is barely tolerable.
As a Maya-initiated demand for control
over half of the countryâ€™s resources
to use as they see fit, the â€œvia maya de
Desarrolloâ€ remains paramount to the
â€œsubversionâ€ that justified the armyâ€™s
The second reason for the reticence
is that many Maya intellectuals
affirm the dichotomy as necessary,
if not appropriate. Although it is hard to
separate the draconian influence of state
repression from the intrinsic vision
of Maya leaders, two factors merit
attention. The Maya movement emerged
in response to deep alienation from the
authoritarian tendencies and racism of
the ladino-controlled Left, both guerrilla
Since wealth redistribution was a mainstay
of leftist discourse, it was logical that
Maya activist-intellectuals would
distance themselves from this demand.
Additionally, given that middling Maya
benefit more directly from culturalpolitical rights, they have an incentive to
concentrate their energies in this realm.
Some prominent Maya organisations
and have attempted to bridge this divide
between cultural-political rights and
economic empowerment; and many
Maya individuals and families strive for
this combination in everyday practice.
In general, however, Maya leaders have
not yet drawn on these initiatives to
fashion a fully-fledged blueprint for a
â€œvia maya de desarrolloâ€, and broader
political conditions remain hostile to the
emergence of such a plan. Memories of
the genocide of the early 1980s are very
much alive, and they induce a deeply
ingrained ethos of oblique resistance
and cautious pragmatism. To rename the
poverty scandal as the continuation of
genocide by other means is to break with
that ethos. But to leave this connection
unaddressed runs an equally serious risk.
The risk includes a vibrant Maya
movement, which achieves ample
recognition of cultural-political rights
but has little ability to help three-quarters
of the Maya people. They will inevitably
face continued pressure to assimilate
and suffer from an array of endemic
World Bank (2004). Poverty in Guatemala.
Country Study. Washington, World Bank.
CEH. (1999). Guatemala: memoria del
silencio. Guatemala, ComisiÃ³n para
el Esclarecimiento HistÃ³rico.
Gilmore, R. (2002) â€œFatal Couplings of
Power and Difference: Notes on Racism
and Geographyâ€, Professional Geographer
54/1, February, 15-24.
nomenclature) came to occupy a
significant place in the early Soviet
imagination. No matter that they
were often bilingual or trilingual,
or that many of them had travelled
extensively: in early Soviet scholarly
and popular record they appeared
as the quintessential primitives of
pre-communist life. Renowned
nineteenth-century accounts of Nivkhi
by Anton Chekhov and Friedrich
Engels lamented what the authors
perceived as their degraded state.
But it was their particular practice of
what Engels called â€œgroup marriageâ€â€”
marking a complex kinship system
that ensured a good deal of internal
property transferâ€”that caused them
to be heralded as some of the Soviet
Unionâ€™s earliest communists.
Poverty in Focus May 2009 19
chum salmon (known in Nivkh as ma
and in Russian as iukola) in order to
support their families. There has been
a substantial resurgence in sea mammal
hunting and the use of derivative
products such as seal fat, in particular.
On a smaller scale, many Nivkhi have
established small family fishing
enterprises on ancestral clan grounds.
In the immediate post-Soviet period, the
collapse of industries and social services,
coupled to stunning rises in corruption
at all levels, contributed to the
impoverishment of once relatively stable
communities. In an atmosphere where
salaries were frequently not dispensed
for months at a time, most people were
cast into a cycle of moneyless exchange
and barter to maintain the most modest
of subsistence lifestyles. Many Nivkhi
look again to their Asian neighbours
as possible sponsors for economic
development, but for now their fate
remains tied to that of the Russian
state that has overseen them for so long.
When I last visited Sakhalin Island a few
years after the Soviet Unionâ€™s collapse,
a Nivkh journalist of modest means
came to see me. Sakhalin Island was
on the verge of massive oil investment
from an array of international oil
consortia, an initiative that has since
become one of the worldâ€™s biggest oil and
gas projects. â€œThese people from Exxon
keep calling us. They are quite insistent
about holding public meetings,â€ she said.
â€œWhat do they want from us?â€ she asked.
She had lived her life outside a political
system in which economic development
presumed the imagined consent of local
populations. Since then, she has become
accustomed to a very different form
of public relations, one that views
indigenous peoples as an ornament on
the edifice of new capital investments
rather than as symbols of a social
system promising equity for all.
Grant, B. (1993) â€œSiberia Hot and Cold:
Reconstructing the Image of Siberian
Indigenous Peoplesâ€, in: G. Diment and
Y. Slezkine (eds) Between Heaven and Hell:
The Myth of Siberia in Russian Culture.
New York, St. Martinâ€™s Press.
Grant, B. (1995) In the Soviet House
of Culture: A Century of Perestroikas.
Princeton, Princeton University Press.
Whereas prerevolutionary Russian
Orthodox missionaries had hounded
Nivkhi for their pagan ways, the new
Leninist reformers praised their
forbearance and cultivated a syncretism
between new Soviet political organs and
native autonomy. Many Nivkhi look back
on the late 1920s as a golden period: the
State founded hospitals, schools, cultural
centres and small enterprises in the most
remote areas, and sought out the most
promising young men and women
for education in Vladivostok, Moscow
As early as 1930, however, these fledgling
freedoms faded. The Nivkhi were not
exempt from the Stalinist juggernaut:
in 1937 alone, the state â€œliquidatedâ€
one third of all Nivkh men in a single
district, according to one source (personal
communication) in the state security
agency, the NKVD (KGB). World War II saw
the widespread integration of Nivkh men
and women into the workforce, and the
relative prosperity of the decades that
followed were marred only by the slow
decline of the Soviet economy under
Brezhnev in the 1970s.
Indeed, until the end of the Soviet
period, Nivkhi remained a fixture of such
evolutionist discourse. Interviewed on
Soviet television in July 1990, one Russian
official looked back on the history of the
Soviet Union and said: â€œYou have to
understand the difficulties posed by a
country as diverse as ours. In 1917, Nivkhi
were living in caves and Russians were in
palaces.â€ Nivkhi, in fact, never lived the
lives of prosaic penury or purity that
generations of scribes assigned to them,
but their image as the most famous
primitives who gave up cave life for
communism is one that they encounter
to this day.
The Nivkhi are just one of many indigenous
peoples of Siberia and the Russian Far
East. Yet their experience is emblematic of
what â€œdevelopmentâ€ came to mean in the
context of twentieth-century socialism,
and how significantly this differed from
the varied contemporary Western
understandings. Early Soviet officials
insisted that in one generation, Nivkhi
would â€œstride across a thousand yearsâ€.
This meant that they would repeat the
evolutionary journey along the famously
imagined Marxist trajectory once
travelled by Western Europeans over
an entire millenniumâ€”beginning with
primitive modes of production and
ending with the wage-based agroindustrial projects and low-grade
Bauhaus housing projects of Soviet
realism. In this ideology the Nivkhi,
like other indigenous peoples of the
communist state, were the jewels in
the crown of the Soviet modernization
project, since their transformations
were seen as the most dramatic.
In reality, indigenous peoples of the
Soviet Union encountered many problems
of the kind faced by all Soviet citizens,
such as chronic food and housing
shortages, and remarkably advanced
forms of government corruption. The
promise of their transformation, however,
never lost its lustre.
As one scholar has pointed out about the
Siberian Evenki peopleâ€™s experiences with
the Soviet state, nearly every Soviet
expedition to Evenk lands, even through
to the 1950s, was described as â€œthe firstâ€
of its kind: the â€œfirstâ€ to recapture the
dream of bringing mature economic
development to willing Siberian
children of nature. In this light, we
find Siberian indigenous peoples not
at the conventional â€œperipheryâ€ of the
juggernaut of Soviet state designs,
but at the vortex of an almost â€œvanishing
centreâ€ of Soviet state power. If the
perfect transformation of indigenous life
was never fully delivered, it could still
inspire hope through its promise.
Fishing dominated Nivkh life beyond
well up until the arrival of the Soviets,
and even to the close of the Soviet
period it continued to play a major role.
While Nivkhi once crafted their nets from
nettle fibres, most now participate in the
larger mechanized fishing collectives
(kolkhozes) that survived into the postSoviet age. Soviet cultural planners took
pains to diminish traditional Nivkh
fishing practices as backward, but the
irony of the disarray of the post-Soviet
period has been that many such
traditions are now being revived for
want of alternatives.
Greater numbers of younger Nivkhi have
taken to drying winter supplies of pink and
20 International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
Political philosophers and
development planners owe a special
debt to indigenous Siberians. The highly
mobile and egalitarian social structures
of Evenki-Tungus and Ket-Samoeds have
been cited prominently by both Marxist
and Liberal thinkers when they have
encouraged us to imagine what a
â€œdevelopedâ€ society should look like.
If decentralised indigenous political
networks served as the model for
constitutional democracies in North
America and Western Europe, in Russia
both before and after the Revolution
the â€œpropertylessâ€ societies of Siberian
peoples served as a model for a so-called
â€œnon-capitalist path of developmentâ€.
In its crudest form, the â€œnon-capitalist
pathâ€ assumed that the egalitarian social
relationships present among many
hunters and small-scale reindeer herders
could simply be made more comfortable
with the addition of electricity and the
building of a local library. Under this
model, several generations of indigenous
cadres in the former Soviet Union
represented their peoples at special
party conferences and oversaw the
construction of new settlements and
educational opportunities for their kin.
As many still remember, the heavily
centralised and industrialised model for
indigenous participation in the former
Soviet Union did not create happy
communities. Overly formal rules of
recruitment into complex bureaucratic
structures often created a paternalist
system in which outsiders with the
proper paper qualifications were paid
to design development for their less
The architecture of Russian peasant
villages built into the design of new state
farms was often ecologically unstable,
creating large zones in the taiga and
tundra that were devoid of firewood
for heat and animals for subsistence.
By the start of perestroika it had become
clear that centrally planned development
for indigenous people was not the same
as development in an indigenous idiom.
The very first public associations, which
were later to grow into the federated
non-governmental organisation (NGO)
known in English as the Russian
Association of Indigenous Peoples of
the North, Siberia and Far East (RAIPON),
gathered under the banner of â€œcultureâ€.
They hoped to draw attention to local
ways of building communities, which
often involved decentralised or nomadic
versions of centralised schooling,
or new institutional contexts in which
indigenous language use would be
valued. At the time, nobody expected
that the relaxing of state control over
local activities would be accompanied
by state indifference to the fate of
Today, the period of perestroika is
remembered as the time when central
subsidies to state farms were eliminated,
when electricity and food were rationed,
and when all forms of public transport
ceased to exist.
The recent rise in oil prices worldwide,
and the increasing wealth of the Russian
federal treasury, has given new life to
the issue of indigenised development in
Siberia. The neoliberal capitalist state no
longer wishes to dictate a certain cultural
form for development. But neither does
it want to draw attention to the vast
disparities of wealth between indigenous
communities, on the one hand, and on
the other the shining resource outposts
often built from the proceeds taken from
the non-renewable resources lying under
In its crudest form, the
assumed that the egalitarian
social relationships present
among many hunters and
small-scale reindeer herders
could simply be made
more comfortable with the
addition of electricity and
the building of a local library.
The map of Northern Russia
is divided up by certain
created by the privatisation
of Soviet state assets.
These privatised mini-states
begin their portfolios
with mining and drilling
infrastructure, and end them
airports, housing complexes
A Strange Hybrid of
Capitalism in Siberia
by David G. Anderson,
University of Aberdeen, Scotland
Poverty in Focus May 2009 21
reindeer pastures. Furthermore,
international institutions such as the
World Bank and the Global Environmental
Facility have created new â€œtargetsâ€ for the
participation of indigenous people in
As in circumpolar states worldwide,
certain revenues from the sale of oil
and other resources now return to
indigenous communities in the form
of direct social welfare payments, and
more often than not in the form of
buildings and infrastructure erected
by large mineral conglomerates.
The question now is whether a neoliberal
welfare state can create a better model
for local development than the Soviet
At first sight, post-Soviet rural
development looks like a strange hybrid
of socialism and capitalism. From one
perspective, the map of Northern Russia
is divided up by certain â€œoligarchicâ€
companies created by the privatisation of
Soviet state assets. These privatised ministates begin their portfolios with mining
and drilling infrastructure, and end them
with company-constructed airports,
housing complexes and schools.
It is not uncommon to hear
representatives of indigenous rights
organisations praise the wealthy
businesses that provide direct capital
subsidies to local communities.
To those with some experience of
aboriginal rights movements in Canada
or the United States, the nesting of
indigenous development into a vertically
integrated corporation may seem odd.
In the context of northern Russian
development, however, it is unsurprising.
In a place where vertical chains
of command are seen as the most
efficient way of organising social life,
it is to be expected that social needs
are still placed on the balance books
of regional corporations.
Moreover, in a place where consumer
capitalism is still poorly developed,
most miners and oil workers find it
more convenient to have friends with
an easy supply of fresh meat and
prestigious furs than to have to rely on
the services available in shops.
It is often forgotten that the Russian
North, unlike North America, is heavily
populated and has a large local â€œmarketâ€
for locally produced goods. To some
degree, market liberalism has served as a
better short-term support for indigenous
peoples there than it has in other parts
of the world.
On the other hand, unbridled resource
development has raised the stakes of
environmental entitlements. Pipelines,
which bring oil to markets in China
and Western Europe, have carved up
landscapes to such an extent that
subsistence hunting and herding are
no longer possible.
Recent warming trends have opened
the prospect of an extended season
of northern shipping through the
Northern Sea Route, without having
to rely on nuclear powered icebreakers.
This access to markets through the Polar
Sea would only increase the impact on
The language of indigenous rights has
also been streamlined with the recent
merging of local political districts that
were created originally as special
territorial districts for Evenki, Buriat
or Nenets development. Instead,
social entitlements are no longer
seen as territorial and can be more
easily compensated with one-off
payments of cash or in kind.
After 10 years of oil-fuelled corporate
development, it is an open question
as to how one can best express a sense
of entitlement to a way of life. Russiaâ€™s
brief experience of global capitalism
has shown that the most efficient
way of nurturing a sense of respect
for local indigenous cultures is to copy
the environmental and indigenising
protocols of multinational corporations
worldwide. To that end, it sometimes
seems that the struggle lies with public
opinion in Europe or the Americas.
Do consumers know that 90 per cent
of the heavy metals used in the
construction of catalytic convertors in
modern automobiles come from open
pit mines in the traditional lands of the
Dolgan, Evenki and Enets peoples?
Do Europeans know the environmental
and social cost of the oil that flows
to them through Eastern European
pipelines? Would the European Union
liberalise restrictions on the trade in
animal furs so as to better the lives
of indigenous people at the cost of
alienating urban-based animal
Russian models of indigenous
development have always involved
hybrid models of state and society that
mix entitlements with the supply of
goods and services. In a debate where
indigenised development is often
expressed as type of autochthony,
these complex models offer an
interesting avenue for debate.
Anderson, David G. (2000) Identity and
Ecology in Arctic Siberia: The Number
One Reindeer Brigade. Oxford,
Oxford University Press.
Miners and oil
workers find it
to have friends with
an easy supply of fresh
meat and prestigious
furs than to have
to rely on the services
available in shops.
Do Europeans know
the environmental and
social cost of the oil that
flows to them through
Would the European
restrictions on the trade
in animal furs so as to
better the lives of
22 International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
To understand both the benefits
and problems that Arctic â€œdevelopmentâ€
has brought to the Inuit, who now
manage their territories, we need to
understand the historical setting and its
different stages. We would see how
Western colonisers initiated development
first for military reasons (from 1941) and
then for strategic, economic and social
reasons (from 1950), without any real
consultation of the local Inuit. Finally,
there were ethnic reasons (from 1970),
when Inuit leaders understood they
could benefit from the new political
affirmation of aboriginal peoples. In
doing so, however, they unwittingly
picked up neocolonial values that came
with the idea of development, to the
detriment of spiritual values that had
supported their culture.
With the onset of the Second World War,
the Arctic became strategically important.
In 1941, the Germans occupied Denmark
and Norway, and then sought to establish
submarine bases in Danish-controlled
Greenland to disrupt Allied shipping. The
Americans decided to take over Greenland
and establish military bases there. They
reached an agreement with Canada to
build and operate air bases in the
Canadian Arctic. In 1942, the Japanese
took the Alaskan islands of Attu and Kiska,
which the Americans took back a year
later. Several other air bases were built by
the Americans, as well as a land route,
with Canadian help, linking Alaska to the
rest of the continent. Thus began the
development of Arctic North America.
The North was again militarised in the
1950s because of the Cold War between
the Eastern and Western blocs. As a
strategic military zone, it attracted
renewed scientific, economic and social
interest. To protect against attack from
the north, the United States and Canada
set up radar lines, including the Distant
Early Warning (DEW) line stretching
across the High Arctic from Alaska to
by Bernard Saladin dâ€™Anglure,
University of Laval, Canada
and FranÃ§oise Morin,
University of Lyon 2, France
Assimilation and Cultural
What no one has realised in
Canada or elsewhere is that
the new Inuit leaders have
subtly adopted the heritage
of the colonial period in the
way the Western world sees
moral, economic, social and
At white schools, even
those that are Inuit-run, the
studentsâ€™ minds are being
alienated by educational
programmes that have been
designed mainly in the South,
with a minimum of emphasis
on Inuit cultural traditions.
Although the Inuit have
reached a standard of living
that is the envy of most other
aboriginal peoples, their
fragile lifestyle has made them
easy prey for drug traffickers
who have recently invaded
their territory, or for Christian
fundamentalists who wish to
evangelise the Arctic.
Greenland, where an agreement with
Denmark allowed the United States to
reopen its bases and establish new ones
(in Thule, for example).
The Cold War also sparked verbal
confrontations, such as the Soviet Unionâ€™s
virulent criticism of Canada for neglecting
the â€œhuman developmentâ€ of the Inuit.
Canada was taken aback and decided
to create the Department of Northern
Development (1953). The goal was
human development in the North,
to be measured by three indicators:
longevity, education and standard
of living. The so-called â€œdevelopedâ€
countries provided a benchmark
for the degree of underdevelopment,
poverty and illiteracy.
Families were encouraged to move to
villages of prefabricated homes with
community services (school, nursing
station, place of worship, store). Financial
assistance was offered to needy families.
Jobs were created and stores imported
consumer goods from the south.
Meanwhile, mineral exploration
developed. This period saw two key
events: the colony of Greenland became
an integral part of Denmark (1953) and
the Territory of Alaskaâ€”where nonnatives were now the majorityâ€”became
the 49th US state (1959). Discovery of new
resources was not unrelated to these
changes, which made it easier to
expropriate Inuit land.
The Inuit of Greenland and Alaska
realised the dangers of normalisation
based on the Western model and made
claims based on ethnic criteria and
aboriginal rights. In 1967, eight Alaskan
aboriginal associations joined forces to
lobby the US government for ownership
of their ancestral lands. The Alaska Native
Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971
offered them 16 million hectares and
nearly a billion dollars to compensate for
extinction of their land rights. It was the
Poverty in Focus May 2009 23
due to drug abuse, a high cost of living
and lack of communication between the
generations. The schools have promoted
individualism and thus have broken the
old networks of solidarity and sharing.
Although the Inuit have reached a
standard of living that is the envy of
most other aboriginal peoples, their
fragile lifestyle has made them easy prey
for drug traffickers who have recently
invaded their territory, or for Christian
fundamentalists who wish to evangelise
But the Inuit have another option. They
can show resilience and rediscover their
culture and their elders. Some have chosen
this way out. In 1994, when Inuit students
at Arctic College (Iqaluit) attended an
anthropological conference, they realised
how much of their culture had been
lost through development. They asked
for a course on Inuit cosmology and
shamanism, to be taught by elders and
an anthropologist. The course was not
taught until 1998 and was not published
in the Inuit language until 2001.
Artwork is another way to rediscover
Inuit culture. There are now many artistic
projects and cultural activities, which
are locally popular in Nunavut and
elsewhere. There is the teaching museum
of Sanikiluaq, which has given new life
to Inuit personal names. There is Isuma
in Igloolik: with elders, it has produced
and directed films like the internationally
renowned Atanarjuat and, with women,
Among young people, there is the
talented circus troupe Artcirq, which
has been warmly applauded wherever
it has performed. This is probably how
the Inuit will find their own style of
â€œdevelopmentâ€â€”by better appreciating
their non-material heritage. Indeed, this
is an area in which the Western world still
has much to learn from them.
Morin, F. and B. Saladin dâ€™Anglure. (1995).
â€œLâ€™Ã©thnicitÃ©, un outil politique pour les
autochtones de lâ€™Arctique et de lâ€™Amazonieâ€,
Ã‰tudes/Inuit/Studies 19:1, 37-68.
Saladin dâ€™Anglure, B. (2006) ÃŠtre et renaÃ®tre
Inuit, homme, femme ou chamane.
Saladin dâ€™Anglure, B. and F. Morin. (1992).
â€œThe Inuit people, between particularism
and internationalism: An overview of their
rights and powers in 1992â€, Ã‰tudes/Inuit/
Studies 16:1/2, 13-9.
first in a series of agreements that settled
land rights in Inuit territories where the
oil and gas boom had caused much
upheaval since 1968.
This agreement was influential among
some Canadian Inuit when in 1971 a
hydroelectric mega-project was
announced for northern Quebec.
The project was contested in the courts
by the Inuit and Cree Indians of northern
Quebec, and they won their case. Assisted
by non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) and lawyers, they then negotiated
with the government to cede their
land rights in exchange for financial
compensation and regional administrative
self-government, including control of
The signing of the James Bay Agreement
(1976â€“1977) brought major administrative,
legal and political change to the region.
It was also a better deal than the ANCSA,
offering control over education, health
care, culture and aboriginal languages.
Already, going to school and learning
the coloniserâ€™s language had become
mandatory everywhere, and the
market economy had spread throughout
The Inuit elders of Nunavik (Arctic
Quebec) were impressed by their
negotiatorsâ€™ promises and believed that
their children would have better job
opportunities and a higher standard of
living. But they are still waiting for the
rest of Canada to agree to the teaching
of Inuktitut (the Inuit language) as the
first language. In 1999, part of Canadaâ€™s
former Northwest Territories, where the
Inuit were the majority, became the
Territory of Nunavut with territorial
In 2004, regional government was
also established for Nunatsiavut
(the northernmost part of the Province of
Newfoundland and Labrador). Meanwhile,
Greenlandâ€™s Inuit leaders, who had been
largely educated in Denmark, in the
1970s began to demand more power.
In 1979, the Danish parliament gave
Greenland home rule, which similarly
included the human development
of the population. Over the years, new
agreements have recognised more rights
for the Inuit. A recent referendum (2008)
confirmed their unhindered control of
natural resources, their right to political
self-determination and the primacy
of the Inuit language for Greenlanders.
What no one has realised in Canada or
elsewhere is that the new Inuit leaders
have subtly adopted the heritage of the
colonial period in the way the Western
world sees moral, economic, social and
political progress. Such progress has
gone hand in hand with an alienation
of souls, minds and bodies. When Inuit
leaders came to power, their people had
been completely Christianised for at least
a generation in Nunavut, and for longer
elsewhere. Gone is the traditional
cosmology of animism and shamanism
that was key to social bonding, as well
as to relations with the environment and
the invisible spirit world. De facto, it has
been devalued and even demonised,
its memory kept alive only by a few
artists. Today, Inuit villages allow only
the invisible spirit world of Christianity.
Also disappearing is the system of
personal names that was associated with
animism and that united generations
and families to each other. It has given
way to Christian first names and to new
family names, previously nonexistent,
that have been progressively imposed
since 1970 by the administration at the
urging of an Inuit leader who wished to
make his people like other Canadians.
Gone forever is the soul-name of
individuals and its traditional
components. At white schools, even
those that are Inuit-run, the studentsâ€™
minds are being alienated by educational
programmes that have been designed
mainly in the South, with a minimum
of emphasis on Inuit cultural traditions.
All that remains is their Inuit bodies,
which are suffering from sedentary
living, imported food and excessive
consumption of sugar, alcohol and drugs.
Obesity and diabetes have risen to
Infant mortality has fallen to the same
level as elsewhere in Canada (unlike the
1950s, when one in two children died
in their first year of life) and the Inuit
population is growing fast, but the rate
of youth suicide, which was virtually
absent before the 1970s, is now eleven
times higher than in southern Canada.
The quality of life has also declined for
the elderly because of family violence
24 International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
In most countries where
indigenous people comprise a large
share of the population, there is often
a lack of disaggregated data in censuses
and administrative records to reveal
how native people live. The problem
is not only the absence of information,
but that the very lack of data relegates
indigenous people to a state of
â€œinvisibilityâ€. The most critical
commentators have termed this
phenomenon â€œstatistical ethnocideâ€.*
Despite the recommendations and
proposals on which there has been
consensus in many meetings of experts
(many of whom are senior officials of
national statistical institutes), national
population censuses, which are the basic
demographic tool in devising population
policies, are still marked by incomplete
information on indigenous peoples.
These gaps almost always stem from
the use of restrictive categories.
The most frequent case in Latin America
is the assumption that individuals are
indigenous if they know and use a
native language. In other words, it is
inferred that if interviewees speak some
indigenous language they are indigenous;
if they lack such knowledge, they are
included under the generic heading
of â€œMexicanâ€, â€œChileanâ€ and so on.
The problem of indicators, particularly
those concerning the development and
well-being of indigenous people, is
closely related to this practice in censuses.
In recent years, the United Nations
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
has been a venue where leaders,
intellectuals and representatives of
indigenous organisations have linked
the current situation and the prospects
for development and well-being to the
problem of information gaps. Above all,
they have identified the need for reliable,
up-to-date andâ€”to use a term
mentioned recurrently at the Forumâ€”
â€culturally adequateâ€ indicators.
An analysis of the documents produced
in meetings, forums and workshops
about indicators, attended by
indigenous and non-indigenous
experts, reveals that the demand
refers not only to the task of defining
methodological instruments but
also to a set of factors that should be
identified and distinguished.
What is being demanded, implicitly or
explicitly, can be summarised as follows.
Âƒ Indicators (of well-being,
development, environment and
culture) must identify indigenous
populations and must objectively
state their situation in a systematic
and regular way.
Âƒ Indicators should be not only
an instrument of registration
but also a fundamental tool
for evaluating and protecting
communities, as well as their
territorial and cultural resources.
Âƒ Indicators of and for indigenous
peoples, as well as their results,
must be essential inputs for
public policymaking, government
programmes and actions, the design
of projects that involve international
cooperation, and other activities
related to indigenous development
Âƒ Indicators must provide information
on circumstances and issues that
are important to indigenous people
and that are not always considered
in national information systems, such
as identity, spirituality, traditional
knowledge, indigenous forms of
social organisation, collective
rights and, chiefly, intangible assets.
by Carolina SÃ¡nchez,
JosÃ© del Val and Carlos Zolla,
University of Mexico, Mexico
* This expression was used for over two decades
by important Mexican researchers such as Luz Maria
ValdÃ©s, Gustavo Cabrera and Rodolfo Stavenhagen
(former Special Rapporteur for the United Nations
on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties for
Indigenous People). On this matter, see ValdÃ©s (1986).
The problem is not only
the absence of information,
but that the very lack of data
relegates indigenous people
to a state of â€œinvisibilityâ€.
censuses, which are the
basic demographic tool
in devising population
policies, are still marked
by incomplete information
on indigenous peoples.
The most frequent case
in Latin America is the
assumption that individuals
are indigenous if they know
and use a native language.
If they lack such knowledge,
they are included under the
generic heading of â€œMexicanâ€,
â€œChileanâ€ and so on.
Poverty in Focus May 2009 25
Âƒ Indicators must be conceived
of as part of a strategy to position
indigenous peoples as stakeholders
in forums for negotiation, as well as
to heighten the visibility of indigenous
peoples, communities and individuals.
Âƒ Participation and consultation are
crucial to building and applying
indicators. Indigenous peoples
must fully and effectively
participate in the whole process
at the grassroots level.
Âƒ Along with the measurement of
traditional knowledge, indigenous
people must be empowered to keep
it, develop it and promote it.
Âƒ Countries and organisations must
develop systems of information on
indigenous peoples with data from
censuses, surveys, registries, statistical
studies or other conventional
instruments. They should also
produce special reports on matters
of interest to indigenous peoples
Âƒ Governments, the United Nations,
universities and cooperation
organisations should develop training
programmes to build capacity among
indigenous people on the use of the
information systems, with special
attention to the interpretation
and application of conventional
or specific indicators.
Âƒ Schemes of indicators that are
of the interest to indigenous people
should be used systematically in
consultations or any strategies,
such as those of prior, free and
Âƒ Special importance may be given to
multidimensional indicators or similar
instruments in order to take into
account the entirety of the processes
in which indigenous peoples and
communities are involved, thus
avoiding unilateral, biased and
Âƒ Member governments of the United
Nations that take part in initiatives
of global or regional scope (such as
the Millennium Development Goals,
MDGs) should identify indigenous
populations in their information
on goals and indicators.
Âƒ Appropriate indicators (conventional
ones with ethnic disaggregation or
new, â€œculturally adequateâ€ indicators)
should be designed and used, with
particular attention to the main
elements of the mandate of the
United Nations Permanent Forum
on Indigenous Issues: economic
and social development, the
environment, health, education,
culture and human rights.
The research conducted by the
Mexico Multicultural Nation University
Programme (Programa Universitario
MÃ©xico NaciÃ³n Multicultural, PUMC),
using national and international
documentation on the subject,
convinced us of the need to work
simultaneously on two complementary
plans with a view to developing
information systems that are suited
to the needs and desires of
One plan concerns the information
system itself, and in this regard we
developed the Information System
on the Indigenous Peoples of the
The other plan consists of advancing
proposals to make widely available five
groups of indicators that we consider
adequate in providing an account of
the status and prospects of indigenous
development and well-being.
The first group comprises conventional
indicators with ethnic disaggregationâ€”
for instance, demographics, health,
work and employment, education,
land ownership, production,
gender and so on.
The second group consists of the 48
indicators proposed to monitor progress
towards the MDGs that are not usually
disaggregated by ethnicity.
In the third group are those indicators
that are both culturally adequate and
Indigenous Peoples and the Millennium Development Goals
A major concern regarding the MDG and indigenous peoples is that the goals and their
related indicators do not reflect the specific needs and concerns of indigenous peoples
and do not allow for specific monitoring of progress concerning indigenous peoples.
Even from a strictly economic viewpoint, the MDG targets and indicators are inadequate
for a number of indigenous peoples as they give prominence to monetary income over
the informal, subsistence economies that are so important for the fulfilment of many
of the basic needs of indigenous peoples.
As presently defined, the MDG do not take into account alternative ways of life and
their importance to indigenous peoples, not only in the economic sense, but also
as the underpinnings for social solidarity and cultural identity. The MDG carry the risk of
guiding development action towards an increasing involvement of indigenous peoples
in wage labour and market economies where there is no use for their sophisticated
traditional knowledge and governance systems.
Considering the importance of having reliable disaggregated data about indigenous
peoples, it has been identified as a methodological priority by the Forum, which has
adopted a number of recommendations at its annual sessions.
The workshop also noted that an increasing number of countries, international
agencies and academic institutions collect disaggregated data and there are a
number of ongoing and planned initiatives to further data collection and the
establishment of indicators.
At the international level efforts are made by, inter alia, ECLAC, UNESCO, UNIFEM, IFAD,
the secretariat of the UNPFII and the United Nations Statistics Division. At the national
level, research initiatives are undertaken by a variety of academic institutions.
Report of the International Expert Group Meeting on the MDG, Indigenous Participation
and Good Governance, presented at the Fifth session of the Permanent Forum on
Indigenous Issues, May 2006, United Nations, Economic and Social Council
(E/C.19/2006/7), Paragraphs 30-31.
26 International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
general, meaning that they apply
to many indigenous peoples.
The fourth group comprises nongeneralisable indicators that provide
an account of particular situations
regarding the well-being and
development of specific indigenous
people or communities.
The fifth group consists of
multidimensional indicators, such as
those devised by authors like Enrique
Leff (1995) or Giuseppe Munda (2008).
A PUMC research experiment sought
to develop an information system as
described above, in order to monitor
the welfare and the economic and social
development of the indigenous people
PUMCâ€™s mandate is to promote and guide
discussions on the multiculturalism of
Mexico, which has a large and varied
indigenous population, Afro-descendants,
and a wide range of ethnic groups that
settled in the country (Lebanese, Jewish,
Spanish, Italian, German, French, North
American, Central American, South
American, Japanese, Chinese and so on),
as well as the people of mixed race that
comprise the majority of the population.
To meet its goals, PUMC carries out
research that links the intellectual,
methodological and technical efforts
of experts in indigenous issues and of
individuals working directly in the
communities. It shares the knowledge
produced and the experiences gained
with academia and society at large.
In this context, PUMC developed a
project entitled Estado del Desarrollo
EconÃ³mico y Social de los Pueblos IndÃgenas
de Mexico, Estudios Estatales, with a
view to meeting the demand for
qualitative, quantitative, systemised
and organised information on the many
indigenous peoples spread throughout
In particular, the project seeks to produce
studies containing in-depth analysis of
current conditions among this part of the
population, covering its economic, social,
political and cultural reproduction and
development. The goal is to adopt a
forward-looking perspective in order to
support the design of public policies and
social assistance programmes.
The project springs from two previous
initiatives, the first carried out in
coordination with the United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP),
which in 2000 sponsored the First
Report on the Development Level
of the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico.
The report brought together the
experiences of about 80 researchers
working on indigenous issues in Mexico.
The second initiative was the interinstitutional cooperation policy
established for the production of
information and the promotion
of indigenous development.
This made it possible to define a model
for collaboration on the analysis of nine
in Guerrero, Mexico
fundamental issues related to the current
situation of indigenous people at the
national level, involving the preparation
of indicators on the reportâ€™s main
thematic pillars, systematised and arranged
specifically for the indigenous population.
These initiatives conceived of the project
as a tool geared to identifying, gathering,
producing, systemising and promoting
general and specialised information on
the current circumstances of Mexicoâ€™s
The project also endeavoured to suggest
new approaches to the discussion
of some subjects, to introduce issues that
were new or to which little attention had
been paid, and to systematise qualitative
and quantitative data in such a way as
to allow specific indicators to be
built in the future.
On the basis of these experiences,
in 2006 PUMC initiated a project to
assess and monitor the development
of the indigenous peoples of Guerrero.
Known by its Spanish abbreviation
Poverty in Focus May 2009 27
The new project, besides
focusing on a single state,
was innovative in creating
an information system on
the indigenous population
The system includes a
report, a dissemination
document, both available
in print and electronically,
a specialised database,
the results of a forum
in which the main
problems of the
indigenous people of
Guerrero were discussed,
assessments, and capacity
and workshops to foster
ownership of the
by the stateâ€™s four
EDESPIG, this project was conducted in
coordination with the local governmentâ€™s
Indigenous Affairs Department.
The model of collaboration used in
previous experiences was established for
research, emphasising the importance of
transferring information to organisations
that can develop programmes in
indigenous regions and communities.
The new project, besides focusing on a
single state, was innovative in creating
an information system on the indigenous
population of Guerrero.
The system includes a report, a
dissemination document, both available
in print and electronically, a specialised
database, the results of a forum in
which the main problems of the
indigenous people of Guerrero were
discussed, participatory community
assessments, and capacity building
courses and workshops to foster
ownership of the information produced
by the stateâ€™s four indigenous groups.
For the research, data systematisation
and information transfer, the EDESPIG
project rested on thirteen thematic
pillars: multiculturalism, demography,
linguistic diversity, economy and social
reproduction, natural resources and
sustainable development, agrarian issues,
health, education, migration, social
conflicts, normative systems and justice,
women and identity, and world vision.
We invite readers to familiarise themselves
with the results of this project, which
can be found on our website: <http://
The development of the project
confirmed the importance of linking
institutional efforts to those of the
organisations working on indigenous
issues, as well as to those of researchers
in this field, so as to provide useful and
This information should reach
development practitioners in the local
and national governments, international
cooperation agencies and nongovernmental organisations, to be used
as inputs in the making of policies
geared to the development of
indigenous peoples. It should also
reach other sectors of society.
Another notable aspect of the EDESPIG
project is that it encourages the
participation of indigenous peoples
throughout the process, including
their proposals and their opinions
about the problems they face and their
own paths to development.
PUMC now aims to extend the work
to other Mexican states where an
interest has been expressedâ€”either by
government agencies or by international
cooperation organisationsâ€”in the
implementation of a similar project,
one that can provide them with
updated and reliable information and
can strengthen their work programmes.
In the medium term, plans are underway
to implement the project in the states
of Sonora, Chiapas, Michoacan and
Oaxaca. It will be linked to the Network
of Macro-universities of Latin America
and the Caribbean, which UNAM
(Universidad Nacional AutÃ³noma de MÃ©xico),
through PUMC, is using to promote
the project â€œSocial Processes and
Intercultural Relations in Latin America
and the Caribbeanâ€, with a view to
producing a report on the indigenous
peoples of the region.
To achieve these goals, and because
of the scale of the project, it became
necessary to extend it beyond the
university sphere. This will give it a
clearer definition and strengthen its
implementation by including the
participation of other institutions, given
the importance of indigenous issues for
the current work programmes of many
national and international organisations.
Efforts at linkage will prevent duplication
and help create an enabling environment
for the development of the indigenous
people of Mexico.
Leff, E. (1995). Green Production:
Toward an Environmental Rationality.
New York, Guilford Press.
Munda, G. (2008). Social Multi-Criteria
Evaluation for a Sustainable Economy.
New York, Springer-Verlag.
ValdÃ©s L. M. (1986). Â¿Existe demografÃa
Ã©tnica? Mexico, UNAM.
Centre for Inclusive Growth
International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC – IG)
Poverty Practice, Bureau for Development Policy, UNDP
Esplanada dos MinistÃ©rios, Bloco O, 7Âº andar
70052-900 Brasilia, DF – Brazil
Telephone: +55 61 2105 5000
E-mail: [email protected]
Âƒ URL: www.ipc-undp.org
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